The Steep Canyon Rangers are worth a road trip

My 200-mile list is a collection of musicians for whose concerts I am willing to travel up to 200 miles (and often farther, really). Traveling for music is a great way to discover small towns, eclectic venues, and meet cool people who share your interests.

I’m not talking about stadium headliners — nothing against these concerts or musicians, but with many of these shows, you might as well be watching on television at home. You’re so much more present when you’re part of a smaller group, which is why I especially love the folk scene, hosted by all the best coffee houses in America. All members of my 200-mile list are folk musicians. Of course, “folk” covers a lot of ground.

Near the top of my list is the Steep Canyon Rangers, a young bluegrass band from North Carolina. Winners of the 2006 International Bluegrass Music Awards’ Emerging Artist of the Year title, the Rangers are up for Album of the Year and Gospel Recorded Performance of the Year at this year’s IBMA’s. Their sound is a solid mix of instrumentals, traditional and original bluegrass, and gospel, with lots of humor and fun thrown in.My favorite part of each Rangers show is a toss-up between their a capella gospel performance of Wade Mainer’s “I Can’t Sit Down” and their fan-favorite Nascar tune “Feelin’ Just a Little Like Dale.” Though I couldn’t care less about Nascar, I love how much fun the band has with this one — especially Nicky Sanders’ creative use of his fiddle to impersonate cars on the raceway and police sirens. In this song and all their others, the band has so much fun on stage, it spills into the audience and you can’t help but enjoy yourself (even if you hate Nascar).

In addition to great music, witty banter is a part of every show, and bass player Charles Humphrey will have you busting a gut. Check the Steep Canyon Rangers’ tour schedule to see if they’ll be coming within 200 miles of your hometown. If you want to say hi, you can find me at the Third Annual Mountain Song Festival, hosted by the Rangers themselves in Brevard, NC.

Below is a video of the Steep Canyon Rangers performing the title track from their latest album, Lovin’ Pretty Women.