Charles Humphrey III is a man on the move.
Last month, Humphrey surprised the bluegrass community when he announced he would leave the Steep Canyon Rangers, the Grammy-winning bluegrass band he co-founded in 2000 as a student at UNC-Chapel Hill, to pursue other musical and nonmusical interests.
For 17 years, Humphrey had kept steady time on upright bass and wrote much of the band’s repertoire, solo or with bandmate Graham Sharp.
But on Dec. 1, he wrote on Facebook that he is moving on. “With a band whose name was derived from the label off of a beer I was drinking in a Chapel Hill apartment in the late ’90s, I’ve toured the far corners of the world. ... I wish the boys the best as we part ways and can proudly say, it’s been one hell of a ride!”
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Now, he’s back home in Asheville with family and friends and new adventures.
“I’m looking forward to blazing some new trails,” Humphrey said in a recent interview.
That includes bringing his Songs From the Road Band to Fletcher Opera Theater Jan. 5 for a concert sponsored by PineCone, the nonprofit that celebrates North Carolina roots music.
Humphrey started the Road Band as a side project in 2004 as an additional outlet for his songs and the opportunity to play music with friends – many of whom are in other bands – during breaks in the Rangers’ busy schedule. They’ve released three CDs, and a fourth will be available this spring.
The Road Band “was based on friendship and having an abundance of songs,” Humphrey says. “It became a fun thing to do. We would play five to 20 shows a year because everybody was in full-time bands.
“It evolved into a good outlet for songwriting. I think now it’s poised to pick up momentum and do more dates.”
Humphrey and the Road Band begin the new year as a full-time combo with all-star talent, including Sam Wharton, Mark Schimick and James Schlender. Instead of working gigs around others’ schedules, they’ll be available when promoters call.
“The Songs From the Road Band will have a permanent lineup,” Humphrey said. “We’re looking to do maybe 100 dates this year.”
Free from the demands of Steep Canyon Rangers, Humphrey will be able to spend more time with his 13-year-old son and 8-year-old daughter.
Besides family and music, Humphrey’s other passion is ultrarunning – long-distance jaunts of 100 miles or more. It’s a hobby he developed while on tour with the Rangers, and it takes runners over wilderness trails from mountains to seashores.
“I normally run during the week because I’ve been busy on weekends,” he says. “But now that I’m not so full-time, I’ll be able to target some other events. For me, it’s just a thing of joy being out in nature, getting up on mountains, exercise – it’s a fun, positive thing.
“I’ve got a couple 100-mile races under my belt. That’s the distance I like. I’m kinda slow, but I can keep slow going for a very long time. You pace yourself and keep hydrated. The quickest 100-mile I’ve done was sub-18 (hours). The last one I did was almost 28 hours. It depends on how many mountains there are.”
Though his time is mainly his own, Humphrey’s not sitting on the porch and thinking about the future. He’s taking an active part in shaping it. He recently spent time in Nashville, co-writing songs for future projects. And he’s lining up gigs at festivals and other venues that will offer a springboard for the Road Band’s advancing career.
Blending music and running will be similar to his lifestyle with the Steep Canyon Rangers. But it will also be a creative, personal challenge.
“There will be more energy focus,” he says. “I’ll be able to do whatever I want to do, which will be pretty much the same thing – write and play music, and be involved in family and running. I’ll have more freedom when I do it and with whom I’m doing it. So it’s very exciting.
“I just got off the phone with our booking agent. The word is getting around about us being available. I’m excited about it, and I think the bluegrass folks will like it.”
Who: Songs of the Road Band
When: 7:30 p.m. Jan. 5
Where: Fletcher Opera Theater, 2 E. South St., Raleigh
Cost: $31.11 to $33.25 for non-PineCone members. $25.75 to $27.89 for members.
Info: 919-664-8302 or pinecone.org