- The Washington Times - Wednesday, January 17, 2007

Bluegrass guitarist Woody Platt was contemplating a busy day after a full night in the Nashville studio. His band, the Steep Canyon Rangers, had worked into the early hours with producer Ronnie Bowman on its fifth recording. By evening, they would take the stage at the Grand Ole Opry, opening for the Del McCoury Band.

Not bad for a guy from Brevard, N.C., for whom a career in music “just kind of happened.”

“For me it wasn’t really a dream, a goal or an idea,” says Mr. Platt, 29. “It just kind of happened.”

“We’ve been real lucky,” he adds.

The band earned the International Bluegrass Music Association’s emerging artist of the year award for 2006, about the same time the title track for its current CD, “One Dime at a Time,” was hitting No. 1 on the bluegrass charts.

The quintet — Mr. Platt with banjo player Graham Sharp, fiddler Nicky Sanders, mandolin player Mike Guggino and Charles R. Humphrey III on bass — will perform at the State Theatre in Falls Church Sunday. Doors open at 6 p.m. (www.thestatetheatre.com).

With traditional dead-on harmonies and hot instrumental licks, the Rangers devote more energy to writing and performing original songs than to recreating road-tested compositions. The new recording, planned for release in time for the annual Merlefest festival in Wilkesboro, N.C., on April 26, continues down that trail.

The core of the group — Mr. Platt, Mr. Sharp and Mr. Humphrey — met as freshmen at the University of North Carolina in Chapel Hill. Before they graduated in 2000, they were “playing around Chapel Hill pretty steadily,” Mr. Platt says.

Now, he says, they are playing “110, 120 shows a year.”

“It seems like we’re going to be playing all the [festivals] we want to be playing,” he says, including those often frequented by Washington-area bluegrass fans in Gettysburg, Pa., and Syria, Va.

But, “the music industry is competitive,” and the band is “forever on the road,” Mr. Platt says. The Rangers are trying to keep clear goals in mind, particularly their penchant for expanding the bluegrass audience — and songwriting.

“We are trying hard to play festivals where there is only one bluegrass band,” Mr. Platt says. “We try to stick to a fairly traditional format to our music, but that doesn’t mean we play only to a traditional market. We often find ourselves at 2 a.m. in a rock club singing gospel music.”

Jay Votel

Gnashing ‘Teeth

Fourteen musicians can sometimes be tough to corral into one place for shows or rehearsals, says Michael Shereikis, vocalist and guitarist for local Afrofunk band Chopteeth. But when the five members of the horn section, drummer, two percussionists, two guitarists, bassist, keyboardist, and two singers come together to blast thick, big-band melodies clear through the walls, it’s worth the hassle.

Just ask D.C. Mayor Adrian M. Fenty and his wife, Michelle, who helped facilitate their playing at his Jan. 6 inauguration shindig at the Washington Convention Center.

Chopteeth formed around 2004, when bassist Robert Fox approached several well-traveled musicians he knew about forming a group. Within months, Chopteeth had grown into a musically diverse nine-piece collective and was playing gigs.

Though they’ve had some minor personnel changes since then, Mr. Shereikis says Chopteeth has reached a kind of homeostasis now, both in terms of crew and cuts.

Their energetic shows — at places like the 9:30 Club (where they recently opened for Soulive and the Greyboy Allstars) and Strathmore — combine original material and covers, all rooted in rich Fela Kuti-esque Afrofunk and drawing on Ghanaian dance music, Senegalese rumba and Jamaican ska.

Even without a full-length album (they’re still working on it), Chopteeth has earned considerable acclaim both locally and elsewhere, getting nominated for several Washington Area Music Association Wammie Awards and amassing a large readership on their community-building music blog, www.afrofunkforum.blogspot.com/.

Recently, they started a monthly event called the Afrofunk Forum, aimed at uniting D.C.’s underground African music scene and its admirers. The next one happens tonight at 9 p.m. at DC9 (www.dcnine.com). Chopteeth will perform a long set, as will invited guests: fellow Afropop unit Elikeh and DJ Thick (David Font-Navarrete, who also plays percussion in the band). Tonight’s Forum is also a benefit for the Save Darfur Coalition.

In addition to creating a haven for the local Afropop contingent, Mr. Shereikis says he hopes the DC9 party helps “resuscitate these musics. I’m not out there to be Fela. We’re doing it to pique people’s interest — and mostly to get their dance on.”

Jenny Mayo

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