Steep Canyon Rangers, live at the Victoria

By Joey Ferber

Photo: Steep Canyon Rangers’ (front, l-r) Nicky Sanders, Graham Sharp, Charles Humphrey III,
(back, l-r) Mike Guggino, Woody Platt, and Michael Ashworth

The Steep Canyon Rangers have grown their own variety of bluegrass. Their music evolved from seeds of traditional bluegrass to original music ripe with unique flavor and taste for songwriting.

Upon speaking to the group’s lead singer, Woody Platt, on the band’s music and development, Platt discusses how the band fits (with a Grammy-nominated album in the genre to show for it)—and doesn’t—into the genre: “We have kind of emerged as a headliner of the genre, but at the same time, we’re not bound within that genre. We tend to play a lot of non-traditional type venues—rock and roll clubs, non-bluegrass festivals. I feel like we’re in a nice place within bluegrass where we’re accepted and loved within that community and genre, but we kind of stretch it out in the genre and music world as a whole.

“And I feel like bluegrass is such a cool genre,” he adds. “It’s healthy. There are always young bands keeping the music fresh and the tradition preserved.”

Although Platt praises the genre, he has one request to broaden the audience and make it healthier: “If the genre as a whole could embrace the progressive style of people who are stretching boundaries a little more, if they could widen their tent a little more and be a little more inclusive, bluegrass would benefit by accepting people who are coming from that root but are willing and excited to stretch the boundaries.”

And The Rangers themselves don’t prioritize fitting into a set standard. Their instrumentation includes bass, guitar, fiddle, banjo, mandolin, and drums—an instrument uncommon to the standard bluegrass ensemble. Platt details the band’s development: “If you listen to the evolution of the band, there were no drums and the chord progressions were a little more traditional. They were more structured in bluegrass formula, and now our music has transitioned; the songs aren’t as formulaic and it has a broader sound. In my mind it’s still bluegrass—it’s just a different type of bluegrass.”

It is perhaps the band’s embrace of creativity and genre-breaking challenges that has led to fresh collaborations, such as their work with Steve Martin on the comedic and ideologically savvy record, Rare Bird Alert.

Platt’s inclusive sentiments match his respect for his role in a larger community. He expresses gratitude and modesty for the lifestyle he perhaps didn’t anticipate:

“Playing music for a career, you have to find what it is that you get out of it. […] It’s really special to have developed a sound and style that is able to give you a career—and we don’t take that for granted. Occasionally, you have to think about, does that music actually contribute to the world? I want to be a contributor. So when I have that debate in my mind, I eventually think people have a great time and they have an experience that does something to them personally when they come to a concert. It gives them a release, or a reset. You know—a spiritual moment or just a fun, joyful feeling. And to me, that justifies the situation where you can play music for a career, not just playing your own soul, but you can be doing something for the community you’re playing for.”

The Rangers intention and ability to relate to people comes through with their songs. Platt describes his own ventures in songwriting, as well as those of the groups more prolific writers.

“I feel like the songs oftentimes can be traced loosely to a story of a life experience of the songwriter.,” he says. “And I prefer to sing songs that are relevant. I don’t really want to get up there and sings songs about being a moonshining man. I like to be able to connect with a song. If I’m singing a song that our banjo payer wrote, I don’t really ask him what the song’s about. He writes kind of a loose idea and you can kind of derive from it. It can speak to you in a different way than someone else.”

As an example of this, he cites Graham Sharp’s new song, with the lyric “I was following the dead but didn’t fight no war.”

“I’m like, ‘Man, that’s heavy. He’s writin’ about someone not on the frontlines, like the medics. They’re receiving the people fighting in the battle.’ And then he’s like, ‘Nah man, I was just following the grateful dead—I didn’t go to war.’ Because that’s what he did. And it hit me both ways.

“I just thought that’s a prime example of how you can interpret a line however it strikes you,” he continues. “The lesson in that is that you can write songs that are loose, and they don’t tell the story in a concrete way. If you just tell the story like a pop country song that just straight up tells the story, then you don’t have any ability to relate to it, how it strikes you. If you can make it a little bit more loose, it can give the listener more of experience.”

The Steep Canyon Rangers perform Saturday, Feb. 4 at the Victoria Theatre, 138 N. Main St. in downtown Dayton. Show starts at 8 p.m. Tickets start at $30. For tickets or more information, please call 937.228.3630 or visit or

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Joey Ferber works out of St. Louis and Dayton as a musician and writer. You can hear him on electric guitar with St. Louis jazz-rap collective LOOPRAT at and on his original theme song for the Dayton-based podcast series Unwritten at, for which he also contributed to as a scriptwriter. Reach him at

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