Steep Canyon Rangers enjoy symphony collaborations
Being a Grammy Award-winning bluegrass band has its perks for North Carolina’s Steep Canyon Rangers.
The band has recorded albums and toured with Steve Martin and Edie Brickell and has recorded albums with producer and dobro pioneer Jerry Douglas.
In the past couple of years, the Steep Canyon Rangers have collaborated with symphony orchestras.
On Saturday, the band will perform with the Utah Symphony for a Deer Valley Music Festival Concert at the Snow Park Amphitheater.
Steep Canyon Rangers guitarist and singer Woody Platt said playing with an orchestra is a “unique and wonderful experience.”
“We do a diverse tour because we do our own shows and then we do shows with Steve Martin and then we do shows with the symphony,” Platt said during a phone call from New York. “It’s a nice component to add to our live touring schedules.”
Obviously, the concerts with a symphony pose their own challenges.
“It’s different, because the orchestra is reading charts of our music, and that means you have to be a little more on your toes,” Platt said. “When you’re on stage with six people, you can communicate pretty easily, but if there’s a conductor who tries to connect with the tempo and energy of the band and has to relay that to an entire symphony, it becomes a different experience for us.
“We have to remember how we recorded the songs because when you play them live over a long period of time, they can change,” he said. “Sometimes they change on the sport. You don’t want to do that when you have 65 people reading charts.”
Still, Platt said he is constantly taken aback at how well the concerts work.
“It’s amazing that the conductors can catch the beat from the drums and bass and conduct in a way where two worlds collide into a perfect space,” he said. “Also, for us, being a band as long as we have, to take the stage and hear our songs with a full robust orchestra sound is an amazing feeling.”
Selecting songs for the symphony shows takes some thinking, Platt said.
“We choose songs that are more complex and not quite as fast-paced that give the symphony and orchestrator something to work with,” he said. “We’ll play more off-paced stuff with a symphony show.”
But the symphony isn’t just relegated to playing back up to the Steep Canyon Rangers.
“We build in parts for the symphony and we get out of the way and let the symphony play some beautiful interludes,” Platt said. “We have also written some intros for the symphony, too, because we wanted to figure out a way to feature the symphony to make the show with us seem like one big group.”
Platt’s musical ear was developed in Western North Carolina.
“It was Doc Watson who’s to blame for me playing this type of music,” he said with a chuckle. “I came across our banjo player Graham Sharp and our bass player Charles Humphrey in college at Chapel Hill. We were good friends and one thing led to another and we played music together.”
After 15 years and nine albums, the road to success came with some speed bumps that the band maneuvered well.
“The first challenge was developing the music and our craft well enough to put us in the position to make a career out of it,” Platt said. “We had to figure out a way to sound unique and create a fan base.”
As the band’s career has continued, new sets of challenges have emerged.
“One these days is to balance touring and home life,” he said. “Most everyone has a family and we need to be able to tour and make a living and an impact in the music business.
“Also, we travel with a lot of people in the band and to keep all of us on the same goal path is hard, but we’ve been able to do it,” Platt said. “We’ve had a stable lineup for most of our career.”
On the flipside, Platt said the hard work would be futile if the music didn’t resonate with fans.
“At some point you have to think about why you do what you do,” he said. “Music brings joy to a lot of people. and I think it’s important for you to know that you are doing something positive in the world. That’s been important to us and is something that justifies this line of work.”
The Utah Symphony | Utah Opera’s Deer Valley Music Festival continues with the Steep Canyon Rangers at the Snow Park Amphitheater on Saturday, July 30, at 7:30 p.m. The concert, conducted by Rei Hotoda, will feature the roots music of Steep Canyon Rangers. Tickets range from $37 to $97 and can be purchased by visiting http://www.deervalleymusicfestival.org.
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