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BREVARDIAN BLUEGRASS

by Britt Chester

editor@yesweekly.com | @awfullybrittish

“One doesn’t often expect a dazzling light show when attending a bluegrass performance, but that’s exactly what the 200 or so attendees of the Foothills Hayride at Jomeoke Campground in Pinnacle received as the sun dropped down over the treeline opposite Pilot Mountain. Rainclouds hung in the air most of the day on Saturday, threatening a similar saturation that occurred Friday evening. While the fiercest precipitation stayed away from the performance area for most of Saturday night, the introduction of Asheville’s Steep Canyon Rangers signaled the arrivals of furious clapping, both from hands and thunder off in the distance.”

YES! Weekly’s former music editor Ryan Snyder penned those words after reviewing a Steep Canyon Ranger‘s show nearly five years ago, and good golly has the six-piece bluegrass group come a long way since then.

The year 2010 was a hallmark for SCR, thanks in part to their relentless passion for making bluegrass music, and the rest due to the fact that Steve Martin co-signed the act to a 50-date tour schedule, some of which alongside Edie Brickell. After a chance meeting with Martin, the group was signed on for select dates, and still to this day play select shows with the celebrity.

But after the notoriety of working with Steve Martin wore off, Steep Canyon Rangers’ career began to really unfold.

The album the group recorded with Steve Martin, Rare Bird Alert, earned a Grammy nomination and opened an entire new fan base up to the Brevard, North Carolina act. It also managed to feature Paul McCartney on a track titled “Best Love.” That fan base was the mainstream, and it’s what would later help to propel the group to super stardom, thus leading to multiple headlining spots at some of the largest music festivals in the world.

The follow-up album to Rare Bird Alert, which was the seventh album in SCR’s catalog, was Nobody Knows You, and did not feature Martin on vocals or banjo. And unlike the previous album, Steep Canyon Rangers ultimately went on to win a Grammy Award for Best Bluegrass Album, as well as the International Bluegrass Music Associations award for Best Graphic Design, and Entertainers of the Year (with Martin).

Since then, despite touring incessantly, SCR has released two other albums, both of which maintain the caliber and quality of the band, but neither of which has garnered much national accreditation. The most recent release is merely a collection of live recordings playing alongside Martin and featuring Brickell.

As Ryan Snyder mentioned in the opening title of his 2010 review, “One doesn’t often expect a dazzling light show when attending a bluegrass performance,” and one shouldn’t (in Ryan’s case, though, weather was a factor).

The trend in upstaging other acts with massive lighting productions and sound systems that could damage hearing is one that is mostly found in the genres of music that require less, how do you say, instrumental talent. For bluegrass music, the focus is directly on the musician. Jake Joliff, the newest member of Yonder Mountain String Band, said in regards to playing live shows, “It’s really pushed me to work out new stuff, more so than any other setting I’ve ever been in.”

Now, for Joliff, a successful and award-winning mandolin player, his angle was much more so directed at the fact that he was playing new music, but the live setting applies to all bands, especially bluegrass bands that rely on the complexities of multiple string instruments working in unison.

Either way, Steep Canyon Rangers should be in prime form when performing. They’ve become accustomed to the material, it’s a fresh new year, and the feverish anticipation for a forthcoming album should fuel the band to put some extra umph into a reasonably hometown performance. !

WANNA go?

Steep Canyon Rangers headline at Ziggy’s on Saturday, Jan. 17. The doors to Ziggy’s open at 8 p.m. and the show is slated to start at 9 p.m. Tickets for the show are $15 in advance and $20 day of show.

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