“To me, there’s nothing more beautiful than the river,” Steep Canyon Rangers’ Woody Platt muses of days he gets to fish. “It’s really one of the only times I can relax my mind. And music has a similar impact. Even when I’m not performing, when I’m listening to music, it just kind of takes you away. . . . there’s a neat connection between the outdoors and Americana music. People who are drawn to one also tend to be drawn to the other.”
As someone who appreciates natural resources and all NC waterways have to offer, Platt studied business and environmental studies at UNC-Chapel Hill, too, and remains an active advocate for clean water where he lives in Transylvania County, NC. Recently, Platt and community partners were recipients of about $400,000 for a riverbank restoration project along the East Fork of the French Broad River.
The project to stabilize a piece of property to its natural health—which required relocating aquatic species like hellbender salamanders, freshwater leech and several trout—involved several partners, including the Transylvania County Soil and Water Conservation District, Conservation Advisors of North Carolina, North State Environmental, Resource Institute, Natural Resources Conservation Service, NC Clean Water Management Trust Fund, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, NC Department of Justice Ecosystem Enhancement Grants Program, Wolf Creek Engineering, and NC Division of Water Resources.
“I’m so proud of it—it’s unbelievable,” he says. “We improved the sedimentation and water quality for miles and miles. That’s been my pride and joy for the last year. . . . I have a little boy, and I want the river and everything in it to be clean and healthy.”
While Platt’s been an avid angler most of his life, he also was a fly-fishing guide since he graduated from high school. He spent his summer breaks from Chapel Hill as a full-time guide and it’s remained his passion to this day. In fact, he always wanted to open his own shop after college but was instead swept away by music.
“I still guide some when I can,” he’s sure to add. “I’m constantly fishing on the road and when we were in Wilmington at Greenfield Lake last year, I spent two days fishing there, too. It’s also how I met Steve Martin. I guided him and his wife in my early 20s.”
Steve Martin, comedian and actor, as well as banjo picker and bluegrass showman, has played with Steep Canyon Rangers for several years now. They just recently joined him on NBC’s “Today” and CBS’s “Late Show with Stephen Colbert” to promote their second record with him, aptly named “The Long-Awaited Album,” released in September.
“[Steve] is just like a friend and any member of the band,” Platt says. “He’s just as excited as we are. . . . he’s just great and generous. I can’t say enough good things about Steve. . . . From him we’ve learned a lot about showmanship—especially in front of thousands of people.”
Playing with Martin certainly opened doors, too, but Platt and company have had no problem gathering GRAMMY Awards and a following on their own accord.
In fact, Platt was into music in some form or fashion while growing up in North Carolina. Singing in a local church choir, performing with the Brevard Boys Choir, playing piano, or “piddling” on one instrument or another prepared him to meet his fellow bandmates in college: Graham Sharp (banjo) and Charles R. Humphrey III (upright bass). Platt found himself hooked since their first show at Linda’s Bar and Grill in downtown Chapel Hill.
“Bluegrass was kind of a novelty at a college bar at the time,” he tells. “But everybody came and cheered us on for that first show—and it was so bad [laughs]. But we got confidence doing it and we never slowed down.”
To date they’ve released a dozen or more records. With 2015’s “Radio” they stretched beyond traditional bluegrass and into more rock ‘n’ roll territory with a full-time drummer. They had, according to Platt, finally become comfortable enough in their own skin to not worry about going by rules or fitting into a bluegrass box. Though, there’s one song that uses kick-drum and is a little more rock-centric, their forthcoming album, “Out in the Open,” revisits more traditional folk sounds and nuances with producer Joe Henry. For example, the name “Out in the Open”—also the title of an album track—was chosen for its symbolic meaning. It’s a reflection of how they approached recording: in a circle, exposed to each others’ presence and sound.
“The record was revealing and ‘out in the open,’” Platt explains. “[Joe] really set the table and forced us into that setting. He didn’t want us to just listen to ourselves, he wanted us to listen to each other and the whole song. . . . He let us be us.”
Steep Canyon Rangers will be playing songs from their full catalogue of music, but also tunes off “Out in the Open” (set for release January 2018) during their tour, including the stopover at Greenfield Lake Amphitheatre on Friday night. “That show last year was just wonderful and we’re excited to do it again,” Platt says.
Soon after, the band will be heading back into the studio with the Asheville Symphony Orchestra to revisit various songs from their catalog for a special release due at a later date.