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Casting into the future: A conversation with Woody Platt

Shannon Whitworth & Woody Platt will play Asheville on Feb. 1. Donated photo Shannon Whitworth & Woody Platt will play Asheville on Feb. 1. Donated photo

On his latest single, “Broke Down Engine,” singer-songwriter Woody Platt teamed up with bluegrass icon Del McCoury.

The melody harkens back to the essence of bluegrass music, but also hops the fence into the Americana and indie-folk realms — symbolic in nature to where Platt currently stands sonically, artistically. 

A native of Brevard, Platt formed Grammy-winning Americana/roots band The Steep Canyon Rangers in 2000 while a student at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. What started initially as a traditional bluegrass entity morphed itself over the years into one of the finest, most sought-after string bands in modern American music.

However, in the aftermath of the pandemic and complete shutdown of the live music industry in 2020, Platt took the rare downtime from touring to reflect on the last two decades with the Rangers — the physical, emotional miles traveled with his musical brothers.

What resulted was his decision to step aside from the Rangers, to give a tip of his hat to his former bandmates on their hard-earned, shared success and to turn his attention to what he feels is the next, meaningful step for him — a solo career, coupled with much-needed quality time at home with his family, perhaps finding more time to fly fish in the bountiful waters of Southern Appalachia.

And with the biggest chapter of his musical career (thus far) now in the rearview mirror, Platt’s vision is aimed forward towards the unknown horizon, which also includes his wife and longtime collaborator, Shannon Whitworth.

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A storied artist in her own right, Whitworth is a familiar face amid the local/regional live music scene, with Platt recently teaming up with her to forge this new path of words, notes, stages and possibilities — all of which seemingly unlimited at this juncture.

Smoky Mountain News: What does it mean to be able to explore a solo career at this juncture of your life?

Woody Platt: After 23 years with Steep Canyon Rangers, I really can’t imagine my life without music. This new exploration of other musical avenues has been an exciting, challenging and sometimes terrifying endeavor.

In my case, there’s quite a lot to be said for the freedom to record, perform, travel on your own terms and at your own pace. I never really had plans to focus on a solo career, but after my decision to step away from touring with the Rangers, new opportunities have presented themselves.

Currently, my musical focus has two angles — an Americana-style duo with my wife, Shannon Whitworth, and traditional bluegrass music.

SMN: Tell me about the duo dynamic between you and Shannon, and how it unfolds onstage for you, compared to being part of a band dynamic? And, with performing alongside her, what does that space and moment feel like for you?

WP:  It has been incredible to focus on music with Shannon. She’s such a great artist who has been playing and performing for as long as I have and we are now — for the first time — able to play and create together. Shannon has been a prolific songwriter throughout her career, so we’ve been able to go back and reimagine many of her songs together, while working on new material.

Since the birth of our son in 2015, she’s done very little touring [and] it’s really exciting to see her back in musical motion. It’s quite a bit different to play with your wife as opposed to a band of brothers like The Steep Canyon Rangers. Some days we’re really fluid and connecting and it’s truly awesome to rehearse and other days we get all the instruments out and never play a note.

I think [Shannon and I] both really enjoying the musical journey together and are sensitive to protect the fundamental passion that we both share for the art. Onstage, the dynamic is fun and loose — we tend to treat each show like it’s our living room.

SMN: Now that you’ve had some time to reflect and distance yourself from the decision to step away from the Rangers, what’s been the biggest takeaway for you, personally and professionally, when you look back at that extensive chapter of your life?

WP:  I wouldn’t change a thing about the journey with The Steep Canyon Rangers. The developmental period was so exciting, when all we needed was enough money to buy fuel to make the next show, all the way to the later years, winning a Grammy Award, playing the big festivals and touring with Steve Martin [and Martin Short]. I look back at it with pride and am still very interested and excited to watch and enjoy the successes of the Rangers.

As for me and the “where-to-from-here” question, I want to embrace the music with Shannon and am excited to play [shows together]. We hope to record an album [soon], which will be a very exciting time for our family. Also, I want to play and record more bluegrass music with some of my musical heroes, which I’m also focused on.

In truth though, my biggest goal is to be home more, spend more time with my son and wife, spend more time in the river and enjoy Western North Carolina.

Want to go?

Americana/folk duo Shannon Whitworth & Woody Platt will hit the stage at 7:30 p.m. Thursday, Feb. 1, at the Diana Wortham Theatre in Asheville.

Admission is $35.50 per person. For more information and/or to purchase tickets, go to worthamarts.org/events. To learn more about the artists, go to woodyplatt.com.

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