Print this page

Between midnight and the dawn: Graham Sharp of Steep Canyon Rangers

Steep Canyon Rangers. (photo: Sandlin Gaither) Steep Canyon Rangers. (photo: Sandlin Gaither)

Celebrating two decades together this year, the Steep Canyon Rangers have evolved from a group of budding musicians in a college dorm room at UNC Chapel Hill into one of the marquee string acts in the country. 

Proud residents of Brevard and Asheville, the sextet have become cultural ambassadors for Western North Carolina and greater Southern Appalachia. Along the way, the band has not only topped the Billboard charts with hit albums and singles, they’ve also garnered a Grammy and awards from the International Bluegrass Music Association (IBMA), including “Entertainer of the Year” (2011) alongside the group’s longtime collaborator, the great Steve Martin.

And yet, accolades and recognitions aside, what really matters to the Rangers is being able to connect, whether it be with a friend, neighbor or stranger alike. It’s about taking the power and magic of live music and using it as a force for positive, tangible change. It isn’t wishful thinking. More so, it’s finding common ground through the universal language, where barriers get broken down and hands are used to help instead of pointing fingers. 

For Rangers singer/banjoist Graham Sharp, the current state of affairs — at home and abroad — has brought a lot of things full circle in not only his life, but also in what he chooses to radiate back out into the world through the simple melodic vibration of wire and wood. 

Smoky Mountain News: How have you been dealing with the pandemic and shutdown of the music industry, personally and professionally?

Graham Sharp: I’ve literally never been home for this long of a stretch of time since college. You know, it’s taken some adjustment, but it’s been good. I feel this long period of kind of exhaling a little bit, trying to catch my breath, and that’s been really good creatively. And getting in a rhythm with the family and stuff like that. It’s so weird to say right now with how shitty the world is, but with these parts of it, I feel really grateful for it. 

SMN: Well, whether consciously or subconsciously, we’re all trying to find silver linings in “this,” whether they appear or not. We know that they’re out there, and they’ve been revealing themselves during this time.

GS: Yes. And this has probably been the case for a lot of people, just thinking through your priorities a little more. I was talking to [my friend] yesterday. We were writing and sitting together, just talking about the whole urge to make everything bigger and bigger and more and more, and how that can be kind of distracting from what’s really important in what you’re doing. Seeing things through a different lens for a little while is probably good for a lot of people in a lot of ways, you know? 

SMN: The Rangers are a heavy touring band. Has this current reality justified or repurposed what it is you love about music?

GS: We just got back together the other day for our first rehearsal. So, I don’t know if I felt myself approaching the music with the band differently than I remember approaching it four months ago. You know, it’s interesting, for as much music as I’ve been making — by myself and in isolation — when I got back together with the group, I felt more than anything that I wanted to just settle into the group, to keep time with a group of people, to not stand out and play flashy solos — to be at its most basic, to be part of the music. 

SMN: It’s the idea of being present and appreciating the fact that you’re in that realm.

GS: Yeah, exactly. Just being at the very root part of that creation and focusing on the most basic elements of it — keeping time and keeping tone. With having all that time away, I’m looking forward to what that brings to the band. 

SMN: With the Rangers album, “Arm in Arm,” coming out in October, the recordings and the title were decided before the pandemic. What does that title mean to you when you apply it where we are in August 2020?

GS: Maybe it’s idealistic merging on foolish. But, I think that’s what music is here for — to throw out possibilities. Like when John Lennon was singing, “imagine all the people.” Sure, he was singing it to a broken, angry world in a broken, angry moment. But, that’s even more reason to get out and say it.

 

Want to go?

The Steep Canyon Rangers will host its “Drive-In Tour” on Aug. 27 (Brevard), Aug. 28 (Mills River) and Aug. 29 (Burnsville). 

Social distancing protocol will be in place to ensure safety. Attendees can enjoy the show from their cars. Live music will be performed onstage, broadcasted in real time on a big screen, and transmitted through a short-range radio station. 

The performances are free and open to the public. But, to attend, you must RSVP your vehicle by visiting www.steepcanyon.com and clicking on the “Tour” tab. Donations will be accepted for the Can’d Aid organization, which will gift the funds to the TUNES program that provides musical instruments and education to underserved youth.

As well, Wicked Weed Brewing will donate $10 for every copy of the Rangers’ upcoming “Arm in Arm” album sold through the Yep Roc Store (up to 2,000 albums). Proceeds will go to the Haywood Street Welcome Table, an Asheville nonprofit providing quality dining for those living on the streets. For more information, visit www.yeproc.com

Related items