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Steep Canyon Rangers start new year with 'Morning Shift' at the Jefferson

Steep Canyon Rangers is bringing fresh bluegrass to perform at 8 p.m. Friday at Jefferson Theater as the musicians begin a new performance year. Fans can expect to hear music from “Morning Shift,” the album the band released in September, in a city the band enjoys.

“It’s such a cool venue,” bassist Barrett Smith said of the Jefferson. “We love Charlottesville in general, and we have a long history of playing there. It has a fond place in our hearts.”

The Jefferson show is “our first night back at work” after a treasured annual holiday break that recharges a road-tested band. Smith looks forward to savoring time on stage with Graham Sharp on banjo and vocals; Mike Guggino on mandolin, mandola and vocals; Aaron Burdett on guitar and vocals; Nicky Sanders on fiddle and vocals; and Mike Ashworth on drums and vocals.

“It’ll be really exciting. It feels like a treat,” Smith said of the show. “We play a million places, and it’s always a special night, but this’ll be an especially special night.”

“Morning Shift” was recorded at Hickory Nut Gap Inn in Bat Cave, North Carolina, with producer Darrell Scott and engineer Dave Sinko.

Smith joined the band in 2018 to work with friends who’d been playing together since meeting in Chapel Hill, North Carolina, two decades earlier. Sharp and Guggino have been members since 2000, with Sanders joining in 2004 and Ashworth in 2013. Burdett took over lead vocal duties in 2022.

“I was in the classical music world and watching this band start,” Smith said. “We’ve always been close friends, and I’d always been there. So when they suddenly needed a bass player, I was a natural choice.

“I’ve been a guitar player all my life, but I certainly spend more time playing bass these days. It’s rare for me to pick up a guitar now, but I love being a bass player.”

Along the way, Steep Canyon Rangers has released 14 albums, including “Nobody Knows You,” which brought the band a Grammy Award in 2013 for best bluegrass album. A well-received collaboration with banjo star Steve Martin also led to three albums.

Taking some time off around the holidays helps the musicians strike a healthy balance. Home base is Asheville, North Carolina, but “some of us are born and raised in Brevard,” where “we do these cool cozy shows in a local brewery,” Smith said.

“It’s a real band of brothers, and a lot of depending on each other,” Smith said. “It’s good to come home and just spend time with family and friends.”

During the holidays, band members tend to leave the songwriting on the bus to be present at home.

“This is the time of year we’re most likely to get some time off,” Smith said. “We typically won’t play New Year’s Eve. That’s family time. It’s necessary. If your family’s not happy, it’s hard to keep it going.”

Now that a new year is unfolding and the road is calling again, fans can expect plenty of new music where “Morning Shift” came from.

Songs always are under construction, and “they’re taking on a life of their own,” Smith said. “We’re always working on the next album, and the next one after that.”

Tickets are $28; they’re $25 in advance. North Carolina-based singer/songwriter Dawn Landes also is on the bill. Find out more at


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