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Steep Canyon Rangers strike out on their own, bluegrass style

By C. Eric Banister, September 2007

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That commitment to the heritage of bluegrass and those that have come before them helped them gain a reputation within the bluegrass community that lead being named International Bluegrass Music Association's Emerging Artist of the Year in 2006.

"One of the reasons we were so excited about the nomination is that over the years of doing this, we sort of felt like the bluegrass community at large had accepted us and what we were doing and our sound," Guggino says. "I think people were starting to recognize it, and it made us feel really good about what we were doing."

"Lovin' Pretty Women" continues that traditional sound with help from producer Ronnie Bowman. He began his professional bluegrass career with Lost & Found before serving 11 years with Lonesome River Band. After leaving LRB in 2002, he embarked on a solo career that including having his songs cut by many mainstream artists such as Brook & Dunn, who took Bowman's "It's Getting Better All The Time" to the number 1 spot on the Billboard Country charts in 2005.

"It was an awesome experience," Guggino says of working with Bowman."Ronnie is such a great guy and such a wonderful musician. He's got so many ideas and so much energy. We had no idea going into the session because we didn't know him. We had never met him before; we didn't know him at all. Our management and his management kind of hooked us up together, and we weren't sure how it was going to work. We knew of Ronnie, and we knew his music, and we knew what he did. We didn't know if he knew what we did or liked what we did, but it actually worked out to be a great combination, and we're really proud of how the album came out."

Bowman's experience in songwriting and producing helped guide the band as they played music in the studio, swapping suggestions and tips.

"It was really democratic, and he had a lot of ideas," Guggino says. "I think immediately, he figured out what our style is and what we were good at and what we did, and he didn't try to change that and make us do stuff that we never do or wouldn't feel comfortable doing stylistically."

The album showcases the songwriting skills of Sharp and the band's input, as well as Bowman's.

"There's a lot of songs on this record that we really, really like, and that's one thing about this record that we're so proud of is that we think every song on it's really strong, really good," he says. "That has a lot to do with Ronnie Bowman helping us sort through our songs for which ones we should record because we had more songs written that we didn't record that were good songs too, but we felt like he helped us sort through them and figure out which ones would be best for the record, and he brought some to the table that we hadn't thought of. We think every song on there came off really strong, and they're all a lot of fun to play live."

And the band is doing a lot of live playing, from opening Merlefest on the Watson stage, the festivals main stage, to doing their first shows in Europe this past summer.

"This will be our first trip to Europe and we're actually doing it twice in one month," he says.

Even with the world traveling ahead, one of the festivals the band is looking forward to most is one that hits closest to home. The Mountain Song Music Festival is a benefit for the Boys & Girls Club in Brevard, N. C., home of both Guggino and Platt. Last year's festival was headlined by Doc Watson and the line-up for this event includes the Steep Canyon Rangers, the Del McCoury Band, the Claire Lynch band and the Peter Rowan and Tony Rice Quartet.

"It's a one day festival, and it's at the Brevard Music Center which is beautiful open air amphitheater, it's covered, but it's open air and seats about 2,000 people," he says. "Last year it sold out. All the seats sold out, and there were lawn seats on either side full of people. The weather was perfect and they raised a lot of money for the Boys & Girls Club. We can't wait for it again this year; it's just going to be great.

"Woody and I both grew up in Brevard and we both moved away for college and stuff, but we both came back and both live here now again and settled down here. "So this place means a lot to us and the community has definitely supported us growing up and now supports the band. We love to do stuff for the community in Brevard, for sure, and this is a great way to give back to the community."

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