The Steep Canyon Rangers Climb Now


After years of ascending the bluegrass charts with Grammy-winning band Steep Canyon Rangers, ace banjo picker Graham Sharp has discovered a brand new ardour for climbing crags within the Blue Ridge.   

It’s an early fall day, and Graham Sharp—founding member of the Grammy-winning bluegrass outfit Steep Canyon Rangers—is hanging off a cliff, clinging to a granite face on Rumbling Bald Mountain in North Carolina’s Chimney Rock State Park. 

At 75 ft, the game route—colloquially generally known as Bear Cub—is comparatively brief. But it’s stout, and simply tough sufficient that Sharp’s coronary heart kilos just a little sooner and his imaginative and prescient narrows. The feeling isn’t in contrast to what washes over him when he steps on stage to carry out for a packed live performance venue.  

“Getting in front of thousands of people is still nerve-wracking,” the musician admits. “But what helps me is to focus on the small things like my breathing or hand positioning instead of all the people out there watching.” 

Climbing, Sharp says, isn’t all that completely different. 

Sharp performing with the band. Photo courtesy of IVPR.

“There’s a lot of crossover,” he notes. “You don’t want to focus on what’s below you or even what’s too far above you. You just want to stay right there in the moment, with your big toe crammed into a tiny, tiny piece of rock, hoping that it’ll take you a little bit higher.” 

A self-described “climbing novice,” Sharp was launched to the game about two years in the past when his teenage son Wade joined the mountain climbing membership at his highschool. A pole vaulter, nationwide cyclo-cross and mountain bike racer, and all-around “meticulous, hard-working athlete,” Wade was decided to grasp his latest curiosity. He was additionally decided for his dad to hitch in on the enjoyable. 

“We started taking some of his good friends to Rumbling Bald and spending entire days down there,” says Sharp, who lives in Asheville, about 50 minutes north of the climbing space. 

The father-and-son duo have additionally logged fairly just a few hours at a cheekily named place referred to as The Dump. Nestled off Highway 221 between Blowing Rock and Linville, the realm dishes up a smorgasbord of sandstone cliffs with steep, slabby routes. During their final journey to the realm, Wade stepped up as lead climber, which was no straightforward activity. 

“I don’t think he bit off more than he could chew,” says Sharp. “But it definitely took all of him to pull it off.” 

Undeterred, Wade is setting his sights on even more durable routes that snake up Stone Mountain, a large granite dome that rises from the North Carolina foothills. He’s additionally pushing his dad to climb The Nose, an iconic, 500-foot route on Looking Glass Rock in Pisgah National Forest.

As Sharp continues to discover new climbing pursuits, his music profession is heading in some new instructions. 

Earlier this 12 months, Sharp and the remainder of the Rangers gathered on the Inn Bat Cave in Bat Cave, N.C., for every week to report the band’s 14th studio album, “Morning Shift.” Officially launched on September 8, the report is the primary produced within the wake of guitarist and vocalist Woody Platt’s departure. 

For these unfamiliar with the band’s backstory, Platt, Sharp, and former bassist Charles Humphrey III met within the late Nineteen Nineties as college students on the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. In 2000, the trio formally emerged as Steep Canyon Rangers. A 12 months later, they launched their debut album, “Old Dreams and New Dreams.” 

Earlier this 12 months, Steep Canyon Rangers recorded their 14th album on the Inn Bat Cave. Photo by Joey Seawell.

“We didn’t have a lot of goals for it in the beginning,” says Sharp. “Music was just something we all loved, and things naturally evolved.” 

That pure evolution has included three collaborative information with comic and film star Steve Martin, a Grammy for Best Bluegrass Album in 2013, and a spot within the North Carolina Music Hall of Fame. Through all of it, Platt fronted the group on lead vocals. But final April, the Brevard native introduced he could be stepping away after almost twenty years with the band. (Humphrey departed 5 years prior.)

With Platt gone, the 5 remaining guys labored their community of music contacts and stumbled upon Aaron Burdett, a singer-songwriter and guitarist primarily based in Saluda, N.C. Three weeks later, Burdett discovered himself on the Hollywood Bowl performing in entrance of 18,000 followers alongside the opposite Rangers. The transition was seamless, says Sharp. 

“Aaron is a really strong musical personality who has been writing songs for a long time,” he notes. “He brings a deep well of music to us, and it blends perfectly with our style.”

“Morning Shift” is a testomony to that. According to Sharp, the report delivers the signature Steep Canyon Rangers sound however is extra “dynamic.”

“As we recorded the album, our producer, Darrell Scott, was intent on making sure that Aaron would sing a song, Barrett [Smith] would sing a song, I would sing a song, and then we would repeat,” he explains. “So, it’s different from other records in that we are all telling stories from our viewpoints.”

The songs are additionally a bit extra narrative in nature, says Sharp. “Hominy Valley,” for example, steps centuries again in time and rehashes General Rutherford’s marketing campaign towards the Cherokee through the Revolutionary War. 

“I live right near the big bend of Hominy Creek here in West Asheville where the English set up camp,” says Sharp, who co-wrote the track with Burdett and Smith. “There’s an apartment complex being built that has caused a big brouhaha in the neighborhood, so the song combines this history of the Cherokee fighting for their land with these modern confrontations of who gets to choose how the land is used.”

It’s so much to pack right into a four-minute track, therefore why it took Sharp a number of years to fine-tune the lyrics. He lastly skilled a revelation one random evening after dinner—an instance of how songwriting can occur wherever and anytime.   

Sharp and the band carry out. Photo courtesy of IVPR.

“I don’t have to be sitting in front of a piece of paper,” he says. “I could be lying in my bed half-asleep. Or I could be walking down the street.”

Though Sharp has but to write down a track whereas mountain climbing, he’s positive that inspiration might strike whereas he and his son, Wade, are summiting a crag.

“My writing process is sort of ongoing and everywhere,” the musician notes. “It’s just a matter of paying attention in the moment.” 

The Steep Canyon Rangers will carry out at The Grand Ole Opry in Nashville, Tenn., on Saturday, Dec. 9, and the Jefferson Theater in Charlottesville, Va., on January 19. For tickets and a full tour schedule, go to

Cover picture: Graham Sharp and his 17-year-old son Wade. Photo courtesy of Graham Sharp.


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