Sneak peek

Attendees will hear material from new Ranger album

Courtesy photos The Steep Canyon Rangers are headlining the First Frontier Festival at the Mishler Theatre July 27.

The region will be treated to a headlining concert by the Grammy Award-winning, genre-defying Steep Canyon Rangers July 27 at the Mishler Theatre during the second annual First Frontier Festival.

Steep Canyon Rangers, comprised of Woody Platt (acoustic guitar/lead vocals), Graham Sharp (banjo, lead and harmony vocals), Mike Guggino (mandolin, harmony vocals) Nicky Sanders (fiddle/vocal), Mike Ashworth (percussion/vocals) and Barret Smith (upright bass), won a 2013 Grammy for Best Bluegrass Album and is the festival’s first Grammy-winning act, according to organizers.

“As a musician, a Grammy is the highest honor as far as an award you can receive in your genre. We’re very appreciative and we’d like to win another one,” Guggino said, adding the band is “happy as long as our career trajectory is upward.”

Founded 19 years ago, the band intends to keep writing, performing and pleasing audiences.

“You can tell when (the) audience is with you when they’re singing a long or give you a standing ovation in the middle of the show — that’s pretty special,” he said. “You can tell when the audience has connected with you — they’re not just sitting there and staring at you. You can see them them clapping and singing along.”

The North Carolinians are finishing two albums before embarking on a new studio album of original material in August, said Guggino. First Frontier Fest attendees will be treated to a preview.

“Pennsylvania has been one of one of our favorite places to play throughout our career,” Guggino said, because audiences provide good feedback and participate in shows.

“We play 90 percent original music in a set and throw in a cover here and there. It’s high energy and a lot of fun. It’s a chance to debut some new material before we go into the studio in August. We like to test them out and see what works.”

SCR will perform after singer/songwriter Elizabeth Cook, who is also a Sirius Satellite Radio Outlaw Country personality.

Altoona First Savings Bank is the title sponsor of the event, which is presented by Altitude Entertainment and the Altoona Mirror. In its second year, the musical festival expanded to two days and features eight acts in a mix of paid shows at the Mishler Theatre and free outdoor shows Saturday afternoon.

Steep Canyon Rangers started off as a weekend college party band — taking their name off of a beer bottle label, Guggino said.

“Our music has changed. We started as a pretty traditional bluegrass band, but our music has changed and evolved into something less traditional,” Guggino said. “We’ve added members and incorporated a full drum kit and we’ve crossed over into new bluegrass or what some call Americana music. Our music is hard to describe as it all blends together and every album moves forward. But it’s nothing very conscious. It’s the direction our song writing has taken us and reflects all different kinds of music that we listened to and still do. We let all our influences come together unapologetically. We’re not worried about fitting into traditional model. We’re just playing what we like and what comes from the heart. It’s artistically very freeing.”

Their touring collaborations also keep SCR’s creatively fresh.

The sextet played North Carolina’s MerleFest, an annual “traditional plus” music festival held on the campus of Wilkes Community College in Wilkesboro, North Carolina in late April and toured with actor/comedian/banjoist Steve Martin and Martin Short. They’ve also played with various symphony orchestras.

“Merle Fest is really special to me. It is one of the first festivals I played when I started on the mandolin,” he said. “It’s the biggest festival in North Carolina and everyone goes to it. This year’s show was very special because it featured all the legendary songwriters that have come out of North Carolina.”

The band collaborated with the Asheville Symphony Orchestra and others.

“It’s been a great experience doing shows with various symphonies the past few years. We get to do our thing all the time but with the symphony it changes and makes for a very big, very epic sound,” he said, noting definitive release dates haven’t been set for either project.

The band’s collaboration with Steve Martin, Guggino said, has “helped with name recognition and expanded our audience. Steve is a huge supporter of the band and wants us to have a career outside of working with him.”

Mirror Staff Writer Patt Keith is at 949-7030.