Steep Canyon Rangers

What does North Carolina sound like?

In a state that’s also produced Doc Watson, James Taylor and the Avett Brothers, there’s hardly a more well-rounded answer than the Steep Canyon Rangers.

A bluegrass band at their core, the Steep Canyon Rangers effortlessly walk the line between festival favorite and sophisticated string orchestra. They’re as danceable as the most progressive, party-oriented string band, and equally comfortable translating their songs for accompaniment by a full symphony.

It’s that mix of serious chops and good-natured fun that earned the Steep Canyon Rangers the Grammy Award for Best Bluegrass Album Grammy in 2013 (for Nobody Knows You), and that drew celebrated comedian/banjoist Steve Martin to them when he needed a backing band. The Rangers are world-class musicians who are just as at home taking the stage at Carnegie Hall as they are knee- deep in a mountain brook, fly rod in hand.

Fifteen years and nine studio albums since forming in Chapel Hill, the sextet—who resides in the western N.C. mountains of Brevard and Asheville—returned to their roots at Echo Mountain Recording for their staggering new collection, RADIO. Recorded over three four-day sessions as the deep, snowy winter of 2015 held fast in the Blue Ridge, the band took full advantage of producer Jerry Douglas, who contributes his distinctive Dobro playing throughout the album.

“Jerry has this ability to stay rooted in bluegrass but also stretch it out,” says Rangers guitarist and singer Woody Platt. “He’s the perfect guy to help us navigate those waters.”

Douglas fully immersed himself with the band, reworking song structures and vocal arrangements to craft a 12-song listening experience with a traditional A-side, B-side record mentality.

“They came in with the songs and arrangements...and I hacked and hewed and changed things around,” says Douglas. “I threw some curveballs at them, and they hit every one of them.”

The album’s title track, “Radio,” bats leadoff. Penned by banjoist Graham Sharp, the song recalls the days when hearing a favorite song required patiently waiting for a radio DJ to spin it, and the excitement of the Sunday afternoon Top 40 countdowns.

“I can recall all the spots where I first heard some of my favorite songs, from a fort in my bedroom to the backseat of my parents’ car on the way home from church,” Sharp recounts. “We trace our lives through music, and a song can take you right back to a place in time.”

Opening with a virtuosic fiddle riff from Nicky Sanders—the only classically trained musician in the band and a graduate of the prestigious Berklee College of Music—“Radio” also demonstrates the band’s team mentality—Sharp’s initial version of the tune jumped straight to the verses, but in the hands of Douglas and the band, it morphed into a multi-faceted, dynamic canvas.

“It’s really gratifying to play music with people you can trust, who hear something and pull what’s best out of it into something truly special,” says Sharp. “As a songwriter, my favorite part of the whole thing is watching the band bring these ideas to life.”

Although Sharp penned eight of RADIO’s songs, he’s hardly the band’s only bard. Mandolinist Mike Guggino—who studies, performs and creates Italian music and cuisine when he’s home from tour— contributed the rousing instrumental “Looking Glass” (a nod to a favorite waterfall in Pisgah National Forest near his home).

Likewise, “Blue Velvet Rain” best exemplifies the band’s beautifully haunting penchant for yearning, high harmonies. The song, along with “Diamonds in the Dust” and “When the Well Runs Dry,” was co-written by upright bassist Charles R. Humphrey III, who balances his musical passions with a passion for ultramarathon racing.

“He would run 15 or 20 miles every day, then take a shower, come in and record,” recalls Douglas. “Everything I asked him to do...he just blew it out of the water.”

Then there’s “Break,” a rollicking, banjo-driven duet between Platt and his wife, singer Shannon Whitworth. Featuring Douglas’s unmistakable Dobro accompaniment, “Break” delivers all of the exhilarating energy of a hit pop song, with plenty of flourishes, but no fluff.

Throughout RADIO, multi-instrumentalist and longtime friend Mike Ashworth (who joined the band officially after being recruited to play drums with the band while on tour with Steve Martin and Edie Brickell), lends tasteful rhythm from his cajón box kit. Ashworth’s presence is both subtle and necessary, rounding out the full sound of a band that’s already on the main stage, and poised to stay there for the long haul.

“We’re just getting started,” Platt exudes. “It’s almost daunting, to think about how much more there is that we want to accomplish as the Steep Canyon Rangers. Each time I get off stage, I ask myself, ‘Was that fun? Did that feed your soul?’ That’s how we go about it, and more times than not, the answer is a rounding ‘Yes.’ We’re totally committed.”

By Stratton Lawrence

When Mipso’s 2013 debut, Dark Holler Pop, rose to #8 on Billboard’s Bluegrass charts, the success surprised a lot of people – Mipso’s four members included. “Well, we didn’t know so many people would buy it,” laughs mandolin player Jacob Sharp, “and we definitely didn’t know we were a bluegrass band.”
Since then, Mipso has performed over 300 shows and welcomed frequent collaborator Libby Rodenbough’s voice and fiddle to the fold – and has continued to grow as musicians and songwriters, while drawing continual inspiration from their rich North Carolina roots. Their new album, Old Time Reverie – produced by Man dolin Orange’s Andrew Marlin – is a reflection of that musical and personal growth: a gripping, mature sophomore release that finds the quartet expanding their sonic resources while doubling down on their experimentation with string band tradition.

While the instrumentation on the acclaimed Dark Holler Pop embraced North Carolina’s bluegrass heritage head-on, Old Time Reverie finds Mipso shifting their focus away from bluegrass, introducing new instruments and textures to create a distinctly different sound. Clawhammer banjo out of 1920s early country music meets atmospheric electric organ (played by Josh Oliver of The Everybodyfields) more native to 1970s pop. Add imaginative songwriting and a group cohesion gained from two years of near-constant touring, and the resulting sound is powerfully rhythmic, lyrically sharp, and woven with beautiful four-part harmonies.

Before forming Mipso, Jacob Sharp (mandolin), Joseph Terrell (guitar), Wood Robinson (bass), and Libby Rodenbough (fiddle) were just classmates at UNC-Chapel Hill, where the experience of singing together in harmony drew them together. The sound of their blended voices remains one of the band’s hallmarks. Since those college jam sessions, the four have entered a new phase of life, one where the work of making music – and the work of living – has become a more complicated affair. Many of the songs on Old Time Reverie grapple with the moral ambiguity that comes with keeping hope in a difficult world and making sense of its contradictions.

These songs, after all, were born in the South and reflect its modern day complexity. “Our progressive college town shares a county with lots of old tobacco barns and farms and churches from the eighteenth century," guitarist Joseph Terrell said. "We've chosen to stick around in this place where we're rooted, to reckon with and learn from its contradictions.”

At times, the task seems doomed: “Everyone Knows” grapples with a world that is essentially “cold and dark,” “Mama” explores the enduring scars of loss; “Marianne” follows an interracial couple’s struggle to love one another against their community’s disapproval. But if Old Time Reverie conjures a dark vision of the world, it also meditates on points of radiance. Even the wary narrator in “Father’s House” can see “a light on the porch.” The album closer “Four Train,” too, is a crinkled smile at the end of a weary day, describing love as “like a stain that won’t come out” or “like a flame that won’t burn out” – or perhaps as both.

In both theme and temperament, the album finds an interplay between the sunrise and the twilight – a tug-of-war that’s itself an old-time tradition. From “Eliza,” a lively waltz-time romp, to “Bad Penny,” a surrealist dream sequence with an Abe Lincoln cameo, the album revels in the seesaw spectrum of experience and memory, where technicolor carnival hues blend with grown-up sadness and the whispers of ghosts. Mipso’s color palette, like its soundscape, is radically inclusive.

“We come from a place where traditional music is a living, changing thing,” fiddle player Libby Rodenbough said. “So we feel like having an ear for all kinds of stuff is not only true to ourselves, it’s a nod to the tradition.” Call it what you will – to listen is to understand: it’s either unlike anything you’ve heard before or effortlessly familiar. By digging deeper and expanding further, Mipso have created their own dark daydream of Southern Americana: Their Old Time Reverie.

Big Fat Gap - Bluegrass Jam (after show)

Big Fat Gap will host a Bluegrass jam in the Cat's Cradle back room immediately following the show!

Big Fat Gap is a back porch bluegrass band that has no plans to take Nashville by storm. Some of them even have day jobs. They just like to pick, they like each other, and it shows in their performances, which are known to be excellent for those who enjoy sweet three-part harmonies, smoking solos, and captivating stage dynamics. They are: Miles Andrews on lead vocals and bass, Jon Hill on mandolin and vocals, Chris Roszell on banjo, Bobby Britt and John Garris on fiddles, and Jamie Griggs on guitar.

Over the past few years, Big Fat Gap has welcomed the increasing support of many fans, musicians, friends, and family in North Carolina, Colorado, and all along the East Coast. They have enjoyed many guest musical appearances by friends including mandolin legend Tony Williamson; musical virtuoso Rex McGee; Chatham County Line and Kickin' Grass from Raleigh; and the Steep Canyon Rangers. Big Fat Gap has appeared in festivals such as Finger Lakes GrassRoots Festival in New York, Roosterwalk and Elysian Fields in Virginia, and is a fixture at Shakori Hills Grassroots Festival. You can also find Big Fat Gap performing at venues throughout North Carolina: in Chapel Hill and Carrboro at the Cat's Cradle, the Cave, the Speakeasy @ Tyler's Taproom, the Carolina Inn's Fridays on the Front Porch; at the Bynum's General Store; in Raleigh at the Pour House; the Town Pump in Black Mountain; and every Tuesday night at the Armadillo Grill in Carrboro.

They got their name from one of the few remaining stands of old growth virgin forest in western North Carolina, located in the Big Fat Gap in Graham County near the Tennessee border.

$15.00 - $17.00

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Big Fat Gap will host a Bluegrass jam in the Cat's Cradle back room immediately following the show!

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