Many songs have been written about music lovers’ romance with radio. The randomness and discovery that is rarely a part of youthful listening experience today is the subject of the first single from Steep Canyon Rangers’ new album, “Radio.”
“There was some spontaneity involved in radio when you listened to mixed programming and you got what you got,” says the band’s guitarist, Woody Platt, calling from his home in Brevard. “You went to your favorite station where you hoped to hear your favorite song and heard what the DJ was playing. That’s how we listened to the radio as kids.”
Listening to music is a much more specialized business today, with hundreds of online outlets, streaming services and satellite radio channels geared toward specific genres.
While that specificity has certainly helped lead fans to Platt’s Grammy-winning, Western North Carolina-based bluegrass band, the group doesn’t have to depend solely on radio or its cousin, streaming. SCR has enjoyed global exposure thanks to its now well-established side gig as comedian and actor Steve Martin’s band. With its own increasingly innovative albums and Grammy wins, the group is now able to perform with symphonies and play back-to-back shows like this weekend’s concerts at Neighborhood Theatre.
Friday is a more rocking standing-room-only show followed by the more subdued seated affair on Saturday.
“To play on national television or on the Capitol lawn ... we had so many opportunities to grow and learn, and people meet the band that way,” Platt says of the ongoing collaboration with Martin that has SCR touring with two of “The Three Amigos” – Martin and Martin Short – in 2016.
“He’s been so generous to not just call us his backup band and put us back in the shadows. He put us in the forefront,” Platt continues.
The Martin gig hasn’t taken away from Steep Canyon Rangers’ own output. The band recently released its ninth studio album (counting two with Martin). “Radio” finds SCR in the company of another hero: dobro player Jerry Douglas.
“We hired Jerry Douglas as a producer for lots of reasons. He’s very steeped in bluegrass, but at the same time he’s been very adventurous in his music. It was a good choice, someone who understands where we came from and where we’re going,” explains Platt, who adds that Douglas immediately took the job. “It wasn’t like he hemmed and hawed.”
One of the new tracks features Platt’s wife, acclaimed N.C. singer-songwriter Shannon Whitworth. She brings her bluesy alto to “Break,” which the couple co-wrote.
“It related to someone very close to both of us. We weren’t pulling it out of thin air,” Platt says of the breakup song. “There was this particular breakup happening in front of our eyes. We just wrote about that.”
Call it a modern take on the classic country duets of old. Along with the rest of “Radio,” it’s another step in the evolution of bluegrass and the evolution of Steep Canyon Rangers.
“(Bluegrass) is stretching out, and we’re proud to be part of that. We respect the tradition of the music and want to help it find new audiences and venues and continue to grow as a great American art form,” says Platt. “I feel like we’re finally hitting our stride.”
Steep Canyon Rangers
When: 8 p.m. Friday-Saturday.
Where: Neighborhood Theatre, 511 E. 36th St.
Tickets: $17-$20 Friday; $25-$28 Saturday.
Details: 704-942-7997; www.neighborhoodtheatre.com.