Graham Sharp and Steep Canyon Rangers Head North to MD

Steep Canyon Rangers

​DC Music Review continues to bring you more from artists that you'll be seeing at the Charm City Bluegrass Festival in Baltimore this coming weekend.  Hear all about the bluegrass of 'the north' and what it means to Graham Sharp of The Steep Canyon Rangers.

Karin McLaughlin:​ Well I'd like to start with kind of where you guys started - I know​ you guys are all mostly Tar Heels. and that's ​where you guys met and everything started - how about the 'how we came to be' story?

​Graham Sharp: Yeah, we met as ​students in Chapel Hill, North Carolina and ​came together as ​buddies.  We'd hang out on somebody's porch on a Friday afternoon, you know, just to play music and that turned into doing it a little bit more ​a little bit ​more.  We got a couple gigs here and there, but didn't ​really think that would be much more to it than that.  Then we kind of kept on falling deeper in love with it and​ after about four or five years of just sort of​ part-timing and playing a lot and not really getting too serious, we all moved up to Asheville, North Carolina, together, and​ just ​decided we'd make a go of it.   That was probably like 2002 or so and we've been doing it ever since.​

KM: Being Tar Heels, how was that a NCAA tournament for you guys this year?​ (laughs)

GS: I mean,​ yeah - it's always nice to be in the conversation (laughs).​

KM: You guys ​have talked about how in the beginning, you were outsiders in your genre of music and ​that it was hard to kind of get people to realize that you belonged in the bluegrass scene and had the talent. How did that transition ​go from a little bit outsid​e of it and needing acceptance to ​being included and celebrated?

Steep Canyon Rangers
Steep Canyon Rangers

GS:  ​ I think it's jus​t a matter of going out there ​and kind of earning your reputation, you know.  Just showing up at the festival​s and showing up everywhere really and trying to be as professional as you can.  We're fortunate, there's a lot of bands that we really looked up to and in that bluegrass community​, you just get to​ hang out with everybody​.  That's what's so cool about it, you find your bluegrass hero and just ​kick  it with them at a picnic table at a bluegrass festival ​for a couple hours. ​ We were just trying to learn from these people, because​ a lot of these folks put in a lot more time than we had at it, you know, so I think it was just showing that we were serious about it and that we were dedicated and then going out and just doing our best to deliver. 

KM: You guys also are among some of the few bands that get to not only play a lot of festivals, but you also have your own festival -  The Mountain Song Festival​.   What it's like to be on both sides of it and how different it is ​being the people that are putting on the music festival on as opposed to just being able to perform at it? ​ What made you guys decide to do that? 

GS: ​As far as the inspiration goes​, that was actually our guitar player, Woody's mom.  She was on the board of the Boys and Girls Club there ​in Transylvania County, where half the band​ lives and grew up.  She just suggested doing a fundraiser for the Boys and Girls Clubs ​to start, just a one day thing. ​ I think that first year we had​ a bunch of great bands.  It's raised almost​ close to ​$1 million dollars now and over 11 years.  I mean, it's a festival, but ​it's a real community kind of event.

When you put on a festival, we don't get too involved ​in the day-to-day details of it, but we got to pick the lineup more or less over the years.  You try to bring to your fans what you think they'll enjoy and you have to kind of earn their trust that way.  Say somebody they've never heard of is on the lineup, they still have to trust it as somebody worth coming to see. ​ I think that's something that any good festival or any good venue does.​ I mean, you don't always just want to ​see some bands you know and you know you're gonna love, but you also want to be surprised and discover some new stuff.   I think that's kind of what we do.

KM: ​ So going back to the fact that you're now based in Asheville,​ that music scene has just ​grown and changed so much ​down there.   Are there some musicians that you guys have found along the way in Asheville that you've invited to be on the line up or become fans of? 

GS: Yeah, there's always plenty of local bands. ​ Last year, from Asheville we had ​Tellico came and play -they're not exactly bluegrass but they're a string bands​  We got a great couple great songwriters and singers as part of that band. ​

Steep Canyon Rangers
Steep Canyon Rangers

​Our festival doesn't quite branch out into everything that the​ Asheville music scene is, because it's pretty diverse​ and covers a lot of territory, but ​you try to draw on the local talent as best you can.  We're lucky to be in a place that's kind of bubbling over that way. 

KM: So, not only Charm City Bluegrass Festival, but you guys are gearing up for​ festival season and all the places you're going to be playing. Is there anything  specifically that you guys are doing right now ​or that you always make sure you do to get ready for the road?  I mean, you've got I don't even know how many festivals in the next couple months. ​That's a lot of traveling, a lot of performing and a lot of being together. ​ 

​GS: It's still just kind of our standard MO, you know, we've​ been doing it for so long.  I think ​you're always thinking about what's going to work for the next show or what's going to work in this specific setting.   We play a lot of really diverse settings, as far as our concerts, ​they're not all festivals.  We do a lot of performing arts centers and theaters now ​and then we're doing  Red Rocks later on this summer, so I mean​, you gotta kind of treat each one as its own thing a little bit. ​ ​I get a pretty good feeling about things, in the fact that I think I know what Charm City is going to be like, so, ​as you're thinking about that you kind of try to tailor ​the music a little bit more toward th​at.  Mainly, I think ​the general attitude is just trying to keep working, keep improving always, ​and put new material together.

We got a set coming up here in a couple weeks, we're doing Merlefest, down here in North Carolina.  We've been rehearsing a lot for that because it's a set of all songs by different North Carolina artists.   ​

We've been putting a lot of work into that specific set. It's just something that's so unique, but I think we'll probably keep some of those songs with us and ​sprinkle them in here and there too.

​KM: So, you've got a Grammy, you've played The Tonight Show,​ you did a record with Steve Martin​, you guys play at tons of festivals and even have your own festival. What's ​on the ​list for 2019?  Or maybe if there is a long term list, what's ​something else that you guys have your sights set on that you want to get accomplished as a band? ​

GS: That's a good question. I tend to ​stay focused more on the short term​ as far as ​trying to stay creative ​and that kind of stuff. ​ We've been lucky with our band that ​we have people who can kind of look to the horizon and have these goals, ​but for me, I'm ​focused on getting material together to make another record. ​ I'm looking forward​ to some new projects coming out here pretty shortly. ​ We're playing The Ryman here in a couple months, which has always been a huge goal, ​so I guess I'm just trying to enjoy it all. ​

KM: Anyone special coming through Asheville that you're looking forward to seeing?

GS: I just missed ​The Wood Brothers here - they were here last weekend for two nights.  My wife was there, but I missed it.​  

​KM: Bummer, they're a good time live!

GS: Yeah, love those guys.  They came ​through Asheville one time and I was in touch with Oliver and he said, "Yeah, come up and play a song."  So I went and played a song but the whole time, I was thinking 'I really want to be in the crowd seeing this from the audience!' (laughs)

​KM:  How has playing together and traveling together over the years changed, both as musicians, but also now ​that you have families?   ​I was reading one article, ​and it ​was titled, "Things you need to know about Graham Sharp", and the number one was, "is that he's a family man".

GS: (laughs) Well I'm glad that's what came up!

​KM: Right - which I'm guessing might not have been the case​ 10 years ago, but how has all that changed?  Not only the dynamic of the band, but ​the whole method behind it.​

GS: You know, I think ​it's maybe​ led us to sort of, rather than focusing on ​just ​the sort of lifestyle that is​ wonderful and can be a lot of fun, we also want to be in it for the long term, ​rather than putting yourself in danger of burning out. ​I mean, do we want to go out and do 200 or 250 shows for the next three years and ​possibly start hating each other and the music? Or can we do​ half of that and still be able to prioritize the music while also making it something with a little more longevity in mind​?   ​

We've been ridiculously fortunate to be able to be a band for as long as we are and be successful. ​ You don't lose sight of how you got here.  It's a lot of work and I do a lot of my work for the music when we're off the road as well. ​ People talk about retiring and stuff like ​that but I mean, look at Del McCoury, who's 80 years old -  he tried to retire 10 years ago and I don't think they let him.  I want to be ​in that boat.​ I want to be that age and still love it that much and still have that much to give to it, right?

KM: I'm very thankful he did not because ​Delfest is one of my favorite festivals to go to every year. Not that it wouldn't go on without him, but it's always great to see him up there too.  He just always is smiling and seems to be having a good time. I kind of want to be more like Del in life. ​Live more like Del (laughs).

​GS: Totally!  That's just his happy place. You know, being out playing music and meeting new people. We played with him a few  weeks ago and he's just so good,  it was great. Great voice, great form.  Just always seems like he's so happy.  I just don't know how you do it.​  ​

I don't think that I ever would've been in it this long if I hadn't gotten together with these guys though.  Some of them knew they'd be musicians for life but I really didn't and I kind of feel like I've been playing catch up in that way with all of them.

​KM: So back to talking ​about ​Charm City and touring, do you guys have certain venues​ that you visit or certain cities ​where there are must do's on the list to see, do or taste? ​Any traditions in certain towns or ​cities?

GS: Yeah, for sure. I mean, in Baltimore, ​I don't know if we played in Baltimore since the last time we were at Charm City​ but we got to go sing the national anthem at Camden Yards when we were there last time.  That was crazy awesome. 

I just love ​that city.  There's actually a saying in bluegrass, ​ 'the Baltimore bar room sound'  is what they call it, Baltimore bar room bluegrass basically, is what it is. ​There's guys like Buzz Buzzby and his whole bunch​.  It's kind of like​ the branch - like the big Washington, D.C. bluegrass scene.

KM: Yeah, which a lot of people know about!  More and more ​it's as if it's dying out or people ​don't know about it.  They think the main music D.C is known for is go-go, which isn't wrong but we're talking about taking it way back.

GS: Yeah, D.C was the real deal. ​ A lot of these guys,​ from around the ​D.C​. and obviously Baltimore, ​it's a little more hardcore really.  More honky tonk sort of thing, so I've always kind of had that association with Baltimore.  It took me a couple trips when we were young as a band​ leaving North Carolina and Virginia​ and​ going north ​where I thought,  "I can't believe people way up here like bluegrass."  I mean, there's a rich history of i​t all through that whole ​area - D.C. to Baltimore and all the way up and​ in to Michigan. ​

KM: Well Graham, thanks so much for the time and we look forward to your next trip north and we will see you in Charm City.

GS: Looking forward to it.

Performance Details

Performance Details



Steep Canyon Rangers are scheduled to perform at Charm City Bluegrass on Saturday, April 27 between 5:30 and 7:00 PM.

Friday, April 26  and

Saturday, April 27

Charm City Bluegrass

Druid Hill Park

Baltimore, MD 21211

(Google Maps Link)

$32 - $182 -

  • Single-Day
  • Two-Day
  • VIP Passes Available

Please check link below

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The following articles and interviews are part of our 2019 Charm City Bluegrass coverage.

About the author
Karin McLaughlin

Karin McLaughlin

Karin has been a live music junkie all her life, however is a fairly new fan in the world of jam bands and bluegrass. She grew up on hip hop, classic soul, motown and classic rock but has found a new home in the festival world and that is what, in part, had brought her to DC Music Review. Karin produces and hosts a weekly radio show in the area called Karin's Calendar, where she talks all about 'Where to be in the DMV'. She is very excited to be starting down a semi-new road with us and hopes to use her interview skills and write ups of shows to contribute even more to DC Music Review.