Balsam Range brings music home

By Mary Ann Enloe | Jul 07, 2014
Photo by: Ken Howle From left are Marc Pruett, Tim Surrett, Buddy Melton, Darren Nicholson and Caleb Smith.

Haywood County's internationally known bluegrass-and-more band Balsam Range is always happy to bring its music home.

"Lake Junaluska is such a beautiful place, and it's just 15 minutes from where we live. We do live in the prettiest place in the world," emcee Tim Surrett told an enthusiastic audience of 1,200 at Stuart Auditorium Saturday night.

This is Balsam Range's second year participating in Lake Junaluska's Fourth of July celebration and they'll be back.

"We plan to have them every year if they'll come," said Jack Ewing, executive director of Junaluska Assembly.

Ewing said they were in early talks with Balsam Range about a bluegrass festival.

"We at the Lake have not utilized the auditorium to its fullest potential, and Balsam Range is exactly the type of family show we like to have here. Their presence would bring others to our stage. We're excited about the possibilities."

Ewing said he and Buddy Melton were discussing dates. Melton, lead singer and fiddle player whose new gospel song "Stacking Up the Rocks" is at No. 11 and moving up on Bluegrass Today Weekly Airplay chart, sang the band's most requested song "Blue Mountain" Saturdaynight.

Darren Nicholson, International Bluegrass Music Association winner, dedicated his portion of the show to master mandolin maker Rick Metcalf who crafted the mandolin Nicholson plays. Metcalf was sitting on the front row.

Of his first visit to Stuart Auditorium, Metcalf said, "This is a really nice place and I'll be coming back."

Guitar virtuoso Caleb Smith's parents, the Rev. and Mrs. Steve Smith, were in Saturday night's  audience. "They don't ever disappoint us, do they?" said Mrs. Smith on the way out. Caleb Smith builds guitars, and without advertising, he usually has about a two-year waiting list.

Surrett always introduces Balsam Range's Grammy award-winning banjo player as "...Dr. Marc Pruett, but I wouldn't let him examine anything, if I were you."

Pruett was recently awarded an honorary doctorate degree from Western Carolina University for his contributions to the perpetuation of Appalachian culture and music.

Melton, Nicholson, Pruett, Smith and Surrett are the original members of Balsam Range and they all live in Haywood County.

"We started out about eight years ago as a jam band in a garage," Surrett told the audience. "We never intended for it to go anywhere. Then it sort of got out of hand — not that we're complaining."

The band's "Trains I Missed" won IBMA's song of the year award in 2010. "Papertown" brought home the album of the year award in 2012.

When Surrett asked the audience how many were hearing Balsam Range for the first time, few hands went up.  Balsam Range fans are some of the most loyal in the business.  When the band plays, they show up.

Two weeks ago Balsam Range rolled out its fifth album "Five." The first track, Moon over Memphis, is already in the No. 1 slot on airplay charts. At No. 6 on Bluegrass Today's chart is "I Spend My Days Below the Ground," written by Waynesville native and Nashville resident Milan Miller.  Miller's parents were in the audience Saturday night.

"It's the best CD yet," said a concert-goer after the show, of Balsam Range's newest album.  "Everything on it will be on the charts before long. I thought Papertown couldn't be beat, but Five is better."

After a few days at home, Balsam Range headed to the Grand Ole Opry for their third appearance. Tuesday night they were on the program with the Charlie Daniels band, The Whites and others.

Most of the band members had performed at the Grand Ole Opry before they formed Balsam Range. "But it's always exciting to be there," said Surrett backstage before Saturdaynight's performance.

The family that is Balsam Range does some things that a lot of bands don't.  For instance, when Nicholson produced a solo project "Things Left Undone" last year,  Balsam Range showed their support by often including a selection from it on their concert playlist. Saturday night's choice was "Traveling Teardrop Blues" with Nicholson doing the vocals.

Surrett shares his religious faith with audiences and they love it, often responding with applause and amens.  Saturday night, Surrett said that for him personally, it was extremely meaningful to play at Lake Junaluska "...because of what it stands for.

We need a constant in our life, and for me, that constant is Jesus Christ.  We're reminded of it by the cross that lights up the water at Lake Junaluska," he said.  Surrett spent much of his early career as a gospel singer.

Balsam Range records at Mountain Home Studio in Buncombe County and maintains an up-to-date website listing schedules and venues.