Having a Coffee with ……………. Woody Platt

Woody Platt is the guitarist and lead vocalist in the Steep Canyon Rangers, founded in 2000; he handles most of the band’s business matters.  

He grew up in the mountains of western North Carolina, where music was always around, and he first became aware of bluegrass music as a seven or eight-year-old. He says that he was “exposed to bluegrass at the local square dances that took place across the street from my house as a young kid. But it was not until college at University of North Carolina (UNC) in Chapel Hill where I truly took an interest and really focused on bluegrass music.” 

He played piano as a young boy, and in his sixth grade he played the trumpet, switching to baritone horn in the seventh and eighth grades.  

Platt sang in the Brevard Boys Choir for several years and started learning chords on the guitar in high school.

He has been a member of the Steep Canyon Rangers from the beginning, joining two other students of the UNC, Graham Sharp (banjo) and Charles R. Humphrey III (upright bass).

The band was named the IBMA’s Emerging Artist award way back in 2006. 

Also, in 2006 Platt co-founded Mountain Song, a festival established to raise money for the Cindy Platt Boys and girls club. It is named after Woody’s mother who helped start the club. The festival has raised over $750,000 for the club to date.   

In 2012, a year after taking the IBMA Entertainers of the Year award, with Steve Martin, the Steep Canyon Rangers’ album Nobody Knows You won the Grammy Award for Best Bluegrass Album. 

The Steep Canyon Rangers’ latest CD, Out in The Open (Ramseur Records 212588), was released on January 26. 2018.

Hello Woody …. What would you like to drink?

“Decaf coffee please with a good amount of steamed almond or coconut milk.”

Do you want anything to eat as well?

“Coffee will do for now since it’s so early in the morning.”

What’s your favorite food? 

“Grilled fresh fish on a cedar plank served with my mother’s famous tartar sauce.”

And what would you have to drink with that?

“A glass of red wine — Cabernet Sauvignon.”

What’s the nicest meal that you have ever had? 

“That’s very hard to recall. I’ve enjoyed so many wonderfully cooked meals and have been to a wide variety of amazing restaurants in my 40 years. I will say at the moment I’m quite keen on a place in Raleigh, North Carolina, called the Fiction Kitchen. It’s a fun stop while attending World of Bluegrass each fall.”

Let’s talk bluegrass….. Where/when did you first hear bluegrass music? 

“I think I first heard bluegrass at a BBQ restaurant in Asheville, North Carolina, called Bill Stanley’s when I was in second or third grade. But It could have been at the weekly square dances that were held across the street from my house when I was about the same age.”

Which of your own songs do you have a particular liking for?

“I am a songwriter I guess – but I don’t write too often. We [have] only recorded five or so songs written by me in our career. So, I don’t normally think of myself as a writer.

We have a new project out called Out in the Open. I’m really enjoying this collection of songs. Some of my favorites are Farmers and Pharaohs, Let Me Out of This Town and Going Midwest — these were all written by a member of Steep Canyon Rangers (Graham Sharp and our previous bass player Charles Humphrey).”

Which particular album do you like best and why? 

“Out in the Open because we recorded it all live with zero overdubs. Plus, it is our new project and it’s still very fresh and exciting for the band.”

What’s your favorite bluegrass project of all time and why? 

“Some of my favorites of all time are:  Larry Sparks – Silver Reflections; JD Crowe and The New South; Skaggs and Rice; and Del McCoury Band – Del and the Boys.

These albums influenced me greatly – it’s hard to nail one down but, these few were the sound track to my life for many years.”

Tell me about your playing with Steve Martin. 

“Working with Steve has been an incredible experience. His generosity to feature our band in allowing us our own moments on his big shows has been great for our band. He is incredibly fun to travel with and is a master entertainer, so we learn quite a lot each and every night working with him. It’s been a very unique break for our band! I think Steve is a great banjo player and because of his profile as a celebrity he’s had a very positive impact on bluegrass music!”

You play a guitar …. …  What model is it? 

“I play a 2005 Collings D2AB, which I love, and I also enjoy playing my Pre War model D.”

Of all the instruments that you have owned what’s your favourite Instrument?

“I own a cool 1947 Martin D-18 that belonged to a very influential bluegrass guy in my home town of Brevard, North Carolina; it’s a special instrument to me. I also own a sweet 1946 Martin D-28.”

What’s your favorite bluegrass memory? 

“Playing Carnegie Hall with Steve Martin and Ralph Stanley. Or playing the Ryman with Earl Scruggs – and getting to share the stage with Earl on Foggy Mountain Breakdown. Or backing up and singing with Curly Seckler at MerleFest … it’s a long list of favorite bluegrass memories.”

How do you keep fit and healthy when you spend so much time on the road? 

“It’s very hard. I’m not sure I’m doing a good job. I try and exercise most days while on the road. Even if it’s just a long walk. Eat as healthy as possible and never eat fast food.”

Are you a sports fan? Who do you follow? 

“Yes, basketball. UNC Tar Heels all the way. I went to college at UNC and occasionally we go back to Chapel Hill and sing the National Anthem in the Dean Smith Center.”

What hobbies do you have?

“I’m a very, serious fly fishermen. I’ve guided trips professionally for over 20 years and try and get out as much as possible.”

What is your favorite film and why?

“Lonesome Dove. It’s a classic western with some of my favorite actors. Tommy Lee Jones and Robert Duvall.”

Do you get much time to watch TV? What’s your favorite show?

“I stream Netflix TV shows sometimes. I’m into Peaky Blinders these days.”

What would you be doing if you weren’t involved in bluegrass music?

“Dunno! I guess I would fall back on my fly fishing career and open up an eco-tourism lodge in the mountains of western North Carolina for starters. I’ve been a fly fishing guide since I was 18. But I don’t plan to be out of the music business :)”

Woody Platt is married to singer/songwriter Shannon Whitworth – she plays banjo, guitar and ukulele – and they live in Brevard, North Carolina, with their two-year-old son. 

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About the Author

Richard Thompson

Richard F. Thompson is a long-standing free-lance writer specialising in bluegrass music topics. A two-time Editor of British Bluegrass News, he has been seriously interested in bluegrass music since about 1970. As well as contributing to that magazine, he has, in the past 30 plus years, had articles published by Country Music World, International Country Music News, Country Music People, Bluegrass Unlimited, MoonShiner (the Japanese bluegrass music journal) and Bluegrass Europe. He wrote the annotated series I'm On My Way Back To Old Kentucky, a daily memorial to Bill Monroe that culminated with an acknowledgement of what would have been his 100th birthday, on September 13, 2011.