Although they received a boost in popularity when actor/banjo player Steve Martin joined their ranks in 2009, the Steep Canyon Rangers had already earned an audience with their progressive bluegrass sound. Graham Sharp (banjo, harmony vocals) met future bandmates Woody Platt (guitar, lead vocals) and Charles R. Humphrey III (bass, harmony vocals) in 1999, while all three were attending the University of North Carolina in Chapel Hill. Drawn together by their love of acoustic music, they began playing impromptu jam sessions. As things progressed, they were drawn more and more to bluegrass and started learning the genre's classic tunes. The main impetus to "go bluegrass" was the input of mandolin player Mike Guggino, an old friend of Platt's. He also owned a cabin in the mountains near the school, and the quartet used that as its rehearsal space.