Interview: Woody Platt of the Steep Canyon Rangers

Though COVID continues to have a brutal impact on musicians and music venues, there have been a few glimmers of hope. Beyond all the riches of live streams, Come Hear NC recently helped one of the Fretboard Journal’s favorite bluegrass bands, the Steep Canyon Rangers, perform a series of free “Drive-In” concerts in North Carolina. The band performed from a state-of-the-art mobile stage with massive LED screen while fans watched, old school drive-in movie-style, from their parked cars.

Intrigued by how this all went down, we decided to talk to Steep Canyon guitarist/vocalist Woody Platt – who, sans gigs, has spent most of the 2020 fly fishing – about how the concerts came to be, how they went and if this is the future of pandemic concerts.

Fretboard Journal: How did the drive-in concert series come about?

Woody Platt: With the global pandemic, almost all live music in its traditional performance format has come to a halt. So we wanted to figure out a creative way to safely have an opportunity to play concerts. Having an FM transmitter direct to cars encourages people to remain in their vehicles and gives the band a unique setting to perform. We found some great venues and community sponsors and partners to make these shows free to the public.

FJ: How many attended and what is it like performing for a bunch of cars instead of faces?

WP: Shows ranged from 150- 300 cars per show. It was very unique to perform for cars. Headlights and horns instead of clapping hands and hoots and hollers was amusing – and a little surprising at our first show at the end of our first song – but still rewarding in its own way to sort of reinvent how live music can happen.

FJ: What are some of the tech hurdles that you have to figure out broadcasting to that size a crowd?

WP: The two biggest tech hurdles we faced were being able to have a screen large enough for cars to view, like a traditional drive-in, and being able to transmit the sound to an FM radio. A challenge for the band was performing with zero live sound… no P.A…. just our in-ear monitors and trusting the band, and that the mix was good. For these shows, we were lucky enough to partner with APA Music and Pictures, Inc. that we knew from touring with Steve Martin over the years. They were able to provide a brand new mobile stage truck complete with LED screen. That was really exciting… to be one of the first bands to use the truck.

FJ: How have you been filing this time when there aren’t many gigs?

WP: We’ve been pretty creative. We had new music in the can so we’ve been focused on releasing that into the world. Personally, I’ve been spending a lot of time with family, in the trout stream, and working on music with my wife, Shannon Whitworth.

FJ: We always see you with great guitars. Do you have any new or new-old guitar stories from this year?

WP: I just finished a home remodel and, sadly, I sold two Martins, a 1947 D-18 and a 1946 D-28 for obvious reasons. I still love my Collings D2 AB 2000 and my 2018 Brazilian Pre-War dreadnought. The only other new old guitar as of late is a ‘50s sunburst Kay given to us by my wife’s uncle. It still had the lyrics of “Long Black Veil” taped to the side, and sounds pretty great.

FJ: Going forward, do you think this is a sustainable way to tour? Are there enough drive-in venues around?

WP: I think each drive-in show itself requires so much legwork and logistical preparation, I’m not sure it will be sustainable to do all the time, and I’m not really sure how you do a drive-in in the winter, since the band is still exposed to the elements. But I can see it happening again in spring and early summer, if things don’t change.

FJ: You have a new album coming out, Arm in Arm… can you tell us a bit about it? Were you able to finish it before the lockdown?

WP: We finished Arm In Arm in January and we’re really excited about it. We recorded in Nashville at Southern Ground Studios with Brandon Bell as engineer. It is our most eclectic album to date and really captures the band and our current, ever-evolving sound. It’s also our first self-produced album. There are 11 songs, all original material. We’ve released three singles so far from Arm In Arm and they seem to be very well received. Folks can hear the whole album October 16th.

Above photo: Seyl Park