Many years ago, while still living in Charlottesville, a buddy of mine buzzed me and made a simple query . . . . Want to go see this bluegrass band at the Prism Coffeehouse tonight?

I did, we went, and I have been a fan of that band that neither of us had ever heard of before – Steep Canyon Rangers – for nearly twenty years now.

Two decades later, the Rangers have established themselves as a bluegrass force, playing to appreciative crowds across the country, touring and recording with legendary comedian Steve Martin, and garnering multiple awards from the International Bluegrass Music Association and a Grammy for their 2012 release Nobody Knows You.

This week, the band celebrates the release of its brand new record, Out In The Open, with a special hometown show in Asheville.

Trail Mix caught up with banjo player Graham Sharp to chat about the new record, band changes, and their record release show this weekend.

BRO – You guys are well into your second decade as a band. Is there any way to explain how what began as a hobby, and now includes a Grammy, turned into a career?

GS – When you really enjoy something, putting in the hours, the months, the years doesn’t feel like work. This career is a blessing, and has its own challenges, but being there with this group of guys, I can’t help but remember how far we’ve come and still have to go.

BRO – With Charlie leaving, the band experienced its first significant personnel shake up in a long time. What does your new bassist, Barrett Smith, bring to the group?

GS – Barrett has been part of the Steep Canyon Ranger extended family since the band was founded, so it’s kind of like our favorite uncle just moved in with us and brought a suitcase full of musical brilliance and personal warmth.

BRO – You will feature members of the Asheville Symphony at your release show. How big is the jump from bluegrass to symphonic arrangements?

GS – We’ve been working with an arrange named Jonathan Sacks, who has worked on the Toy Story movies and with Metallica, to really integrate the symphony sound with ours. It basically feels like normal, except with a freight train of sound at your back.

BRO – We are featuring “Going Midwest” on this month’s Trail Mix. What’s the story behind the song?

GS – I wrote “Going Midwest” a year or two ago, and it is loosely based on Nick from The Great Gatsby. We had been playing it all sorts of ways, but one day Mike Ashworth and Woody were playing it, just the two of them in this large, tiled locker room backstage somewhere. The sound was big and beautiful and it’s how we’ve done it ever since.

BRO – Got anything special in store for the hometown crowd this weekend?

GS – We’re going to put on a high energy show, and we’ve got a couple new tricks up our sleeves. We’ll get everybody dancing and warmed up this weekend. River Whyless, an amazing young band from Western North Carolina, is opening the show, so get there early!

Steep Canyon Rangers take to this stage of the Explore Asheville.com Arena this Saturday, January 27th, and you can snag a pair of tickets right here! Take a shot at the trivia question down below. Send your answer to dave@blueridgeoutdoors.com. A winner of two tickets to the show will be chosen from all correct answers received by 5:00 P.M. on Thursday, January 25th!

Trivia Question . . . . I dug way back for this one. From the song “Call The Captain,” off the band’s 2008 release Lovin’ Pretty Women, where does the narrator say he won’t be going?

For more information on Steep Canyon Rangers, the new record, and where near you their tour might be bringing them, surf on over to the band’s website.

Be sure to check out “Going Midwest,” along with tracks from Luthi, Ben Miller Band, David Myles, and Heather Maloney on this month’s Trail Mix.

Photo by Jimmy Warsham