Caleb Smith had no idea.
“I didn’t hear them announce it,” he chuckled. “I was backstage talking to Del McCoury about a guitar and he says to me, ‘Son, I think they just called your name.’”
Marc Pruett has won a Grammy and played the Grand Ole Opry stage, but his biggest concern on this day is sinkholes.
“Where is it? Canton?,” he asked a coworker.
Director of erosion control for Haywood County, Pruett sits at his desk, which is covered in paper, maps and books. After a heavy midday rain, two sinkholes have emerged in downtown Canton. Pruett puts a plan into motion, workers head for the door.
In Western North Carolina, it seems the two most important things are tradition and family – and nothing incorporates those ideals more than the melodic music of Southern Appalachian.
“Music is a huge part of our heritage and of our lives here,” said musician Caleb Smith. “You go to a barn dance or play on your front porch, it’s something to be proud of. Bluegrass and mountain music may not be the biggest genre, but it’s authentic. It’s music that makes an impact on people.”
Members of the nationally acclaimed bluegrass band Balsam Range are now the bona fide ambassadors of Haywood County.
John Driskell Hopkins was driving in his truck when it struck him.
It was a song. Radiating from his satellite radio, it sounded like a fond memory he once knew. The voices and melody were familiar, but he hadn’t ever heard it before, and had no idea who wrote it. He looked at the radio. A band name appeared in the digital display: Balsam Range.
The strings of tradition and progress echoed from the back alley.
Upon further inspection (and a lone door cracked open), the harmonic tone was radiating from the mandolin of Darren Nicholson.
The Haywood County Board of Commissioners declared Aug. 10 as the official “Balsam Range Day” to celebrate the upcoming release of the bluegrass band’s newest record as well as its contributions to the county.
“Congratulations. Very well deserved,” County Commissioner Chairman Mark Swanger said after passing the formal Balsam Range Day resolution at a county meeting Monday.
Balsam Range will perform a concert with Tony Rice and Bobby Hicks at 7:30 p.m. on Dec. 17 at the Colonial Theater in Canton.
Balsam Range is renowned bluegrass band based in Haywood County whose members include Buddy Melton, Tim Surrett, Marc Pruett, Caleb Smith and Darren Nicholson. Each one has extensive music credentials, and each brings a well-rounded, unique contribution to the fresh sound of this new bluegrass band.
The Canton concert includes nationally known artists Tony Rice and Bobby Hicks for what Balsam Range’s web site is calling a “Christmas party.”
Admission is $15. For tickets and information call 828.235.2760 or visit www.balsamrange.com.
One of the region’s most beloved and authentic cultural traditions, Shindig on the Green, will present “A Celebration of Mountain Traditions” annual fundraiser with headliner Balsam Range plus Laura Boosinger and Bobby Hicks and the Cole Mountain Cloggers at 7 p.m. Saturday, March 20 at the historic Colonial Theatre in downtown Canton for an evening of traditional old-time music and dance.
The March 20th “Celebration of Mountain Traditions” fundraiser is a key element in securing necessary funding for the free and beloved Shindig on the Green summer Saturday evenings in Asheville. After a four-year relocation to make way for the new park construction, Shindig returns to its original location this summer in the heart of downtown Asheville at Pack Square Park’s Roger McGuire Green, on the new Bascom Lamar Lunsford Stage. Dedicated to the celebration and preservation of the region’s rich cultural heritage, Shindig on the Green’s 44th summer season is scheduled for July 3, 10, 17, 31; August 14, 21, 28; and September 4.
The concert has a $6,000 monetary goal, with all of those funds needed to help cover the “free” Shindig’s very real operating costs, which average $6,000 an evening. The Folk Heritage Committee’s produces Shindig on the Green and the Mountain Dance and Folk Festival in order to support the preservation and continuation of the traditional music, dance and storytelling heritage of the Southern Appalachian Mountains.
Based in Haywood County, Balsam Range’s members grew up in the rich musical heritage of the Appalachian South, surrounded by culture and heritage steeped in traditions of The Grand Ole Opry, bluegrass, gospel and country music. Featuring Grammy award winner Marc Pruett on banjo, Darren Nicholson on vocals and mandolin, Buddy Melton on fiddle and vocals, Caleb Smith on guitar and vocals, and Tim Surrett on bass and vocals, Balsam Range is celebrating the success of its single, “Last Train To Kitty Hawk,” the title cut from the band’s second album, hitting No. 1 on the national Bluegrass Unlimited Chart in September 2009; the album itself reached No. 5 that same month. The band also recently took the stage for a live television taping of the popular PBS program “Song of the Mountains,” playing alongside Rhonda Vincent and the Rage before a sold-out audience.
Two of Western North Carolina’s more well-known and beloved musicians are pairing up to perform together. Laura Boosinger’s concert performance and recordings have earned her a well-deserved reputation as one of North Carolina’s most talented singers and interpreters of the music of the Southern Appalachians. Conventions, festivals, workshops and family concerts each provide a unique opportunity to showcase her talents as she features a variety of traditional stringed instruments, including old-time banjo, guitar, Appalachian dulcimer and fingerstyle Autoharp. Boosinger is also the Executive Director of the Madison County Arts Council.
Living legend Bobby Hicks is a self-taught fiddler who has played since he was nine years old. Originally hired by Bluegrass legend Bill Monroe in 1954 to play bass, Hicks switched to fiddle when fiddler Gordon Terry was drafted into the military. He joined up with the Ricky Skaggs Band in 1981, and throughout the ‘80s and ‘90s won multiple awards with the Ricky Skaggs Band and with Ricky Skaggs and Kentucky Thunder. Today, whether teaching young fiddlers, making guest appearances all over Western North Carolina, or playing a hot fiddle streak on stage, Bobby Hicks continues to contribute to the enjoyment of fans everywhere.
The Cole Mountain Cloggers, dancers from Buncombe, Madison and Mitchell counties, has won multiple awards, including the Ruth Jewell Trophy for Best Dance Team performance, claiming championship of the 2009 NC State Fair.
By Christi Marsico • Staff Writer
Little girls clacked their clogging shoes while families ate hushpuppies and barbecue in anticipation for the band, Balsam Range, to play at the Fiddlin’ Pig in Asheville last Friday night.
Teens in camouflage hats and T-shirts checked out the band’s CDs while the Southern Mountain Fire clogging team strolled through the restaurant claiming their turf and sizing up the onlookers.
Like five train cars hooked together cruising down the track, the musicians of Balsam Range announced their presence.
“We’re having fun already so you might as well go with us,” bass player Tim Surrett said.
Balsam Range performed a smattering of songs from their repertoire, including a few numbers from their latest CD release “Last Train to Kitty Hawk” while some listeners kicked up their heels and others relaxed.
Spread over two picnic tables was the church group from Rocksprings Baptist Church in Crabtree.
Wearing a pink sweater with a napkin in her lap, Frances Clark said seeing Balsam Range at the Fiddlin’ Pig was better than going to Dollywood.
Charlie Simpson, pastor of Rocksprings Baptist Church, believes Balsam Range’s music has made a lasting impression on the local music scene for generations to come.
“Buddy Melton has researched the history and sees who we are and not who we are influenced by,” Simpson said.
Rocksprings Baptist Church member Marlene Hills is a big Balsam Range fan, adding “they seem to work so well together, like peanut butter and jelly. They are an asset to Western North Carolina and represent what Appalachian music is all about.”
As the band took five they talked to The Smoky Mountain News about their latest CD and a few other musical anecdotes.
Balsam Range, based in Haywood County, is comprised of Marc Pruett on banjo, Caleb Smith on guitar, Darren Nicholson on mandolin, Tim Surrett on bass, and Buddy Melton on fiddle. All five sing lead on some songs and bring aspects of bluegrass, gospel and country music steeped in an Appalachian-meets-Grand Ole Opry style to their performances.
Smith’s favorite song off the latest CD is the title song “Last Train to Kittyhawk.” The guitarist feels the bands background sets them apart from other bluegrass ensembles.
“Our versatility is a big deal. People don’t expect to hear the diversity we bring, and not a lot of people are doing that,” Smith said.
Surrett declared he “plays the bass with a Led Zeppelin mentality,” and is grateful for the support Balsam Range has had.
“I never call people fans because I am making friends,” Surrett said. “It’s really nice to play this quality of music and go home at night.”CD release concert
So what is Balsam Range currently listening to when they are not performing?
Smith: Miles Davis
Melton: Osmond Brothers, Journey
Surrett: Miles Davis
Pruett: Louis Armstrong
Nicholson: Joe Nichols, Osmond Brothers
What advice would these bluegrass professionals give to younger musicians?
Smith: “Work together and do positive things.”
Melton: “Be comfortable with your own personal limitations. To do something great surround yourself with great musicians.”
Surrett: “Practice and learn to play together.”
Pruett: “Be open minded to growing. Be humble. Treat people fairly and have fun. Don’t let it consume you, and treat it as a business.”
Nicholson: “Be good to folks. Stay true to yourself, and play to the best of your abilities.”
How they would describe the band and/or their latest CD in one word: