IF YOU GO
■ What: Steep Canyon Rangers featuring Shannon Whitworth.
■ When: 8 p.m. Saturday, Feb. 15.
■ Where: Track 29, 1400 Market St.
■ Admission: $17 in advance, $20 day of.
■ Phone: 423-521-2929.
■ Website: www.track29.co.
2001: “Old Dreamsand New Dreams”
2002: “Mr. Taylor’s New Home”
2004: “The Steep Canyon Rangers”
2005: “One Dime at a Time”
2007: “Lovin’ Pretty Women”
2009: “Deep in the Shade”
2011: “Rare Bird Alert”
2012: “Nobody Knows You”
2013: “Tell the Ones I Love”
2014: “Steve Martin & The Steep Canyon Rangers”
Sometimes the recognition a band receives at an awards show can seem almost prophetic when viewed in retrospect.
In 2006, the International Bluegrass Music Association named the Steep Canyon Rangers its Emerging Artist of the Year. Eight years later, the band has become one of the biggest names in bluegrass and has put several more deep notches in its belt, including an IBMA Entertainer of the Year award in 2011, a contract with Rounder Records and a Grammy for Best Bluegrass Album in 2013.
The greatest contributor to the band's leap into the mainstream limelight, however, was a partnership with comedian and secret banjo guru Steve Martin. The friendship between Martin and the band dates to 2009, when Martin joined them on the road for tours in the U.S. and the U.K., but their collaboration came to a head the following year when they recorded "Rare Bird Alert."
The album, released the next year, rose to the top of the Billboard Top Bluegrass chart and netted the band its first Grammy nod. Lead singer/guitarist Woody Platt says the Rangers plan to join forces with Martin again for about 40 dates in 2014.
"Our partnership with Steve has been a wonderful thing for the band," Platt writes, in an emailed response. "We have had great exposure with him, while being able to maintain our own identity.
"I think [we had] good success with our music before we started toying with Steve, but he has for sure helped us boost our profile."
For their show at Track 29 on Saturday night, Feb. 15, the Rangers will be playing alone, but with more than a decade to fine-tune their instrumental and vocal chops, fans have plenty to salivate over, nonetheless.
The Rangers formed in 1999 when Platt met banjo player Graham Sharp and bassist Charles Humphrey while they were students at the University of North Carolina in Chapel Hill. The future bandmates bonded and began performing a blend of bluegrass, country and a hint of folk/rock that proved popular enough to encourage them to hit the road full time after graduation.
Since then, the band has performed at some of the premiere bluegrass and popular music festivals in the country, including Hardly Strictly, Mountain Song, MerleFest and Bonnaroo. They also have made high-profile TV appearances, including as guests on "Today," "Late Show With David Letterman" and "Austin City Limits."
Despite being described as "one of the most expressive bluegrass bands you'll find" (CMT Edge) playing material that is "just a few shades different from anything else that's going on in bluegrass" (Bluegrass Today), the Rangers aren't content to rest on their musical laurels. They're only happy, Platt says, when they're pushing themselves forward.
"We have been honored to be part of the current bluegrass scene," he writes. "We are constantly striving to grow, create and maximize our potential. ... Firing on all cylinders -- that is always the goal."
Contact Casey Phillips at firstname.lastname@example.org or 423-757-6205.
Follow him on Twitter at @PhillipsCTFP.
Casey Phillips has worked as a features reporter in the Life department since May 2007. He writes about entertainment, consumer technology, animals and news of the weird. Casey hails from Knoxville and earned a bachelor of science degree in journalism and a bachelor of arts in German from Middle Tennessee State University, where he worked as the features editor for the student newspaper, Sidelines. Casey's writing has earned numerous accolades, including first and second place ...