Balsam Range concert series starts back upShawn Camp to headline first show
CANTON — There’s no question who packs crowds into seats at Balsam Range’s Winter Concert Series.
And that would be Balsam Range.
These mountain-raised masters of bluegrass have been selling out the Colonial Theatre pretty consistently ever since the series began in frosty November 2010.
These local guys are stars — not just here, but across the county — and their legions of fans would have flocked to their shows even if the band had been playing all by their lonesome. That said, it’s always fun to watch them jam, especially with the likes of Tony Rice, The Boxcars, David Holt and others from previous years.
Now, meet Shawn Camp, the bluegrass/country/Americana player who is helping kick off the third year of this new winter tradition at 7:30 p.m. this Saturday. A singer-songwriter in Nashville for more than 20 years, he knows the power of onstage collaboration.
“I mean that’s the only way to play music, is to play with other people,” he said via phone recently. “You feed off of each other. It makes the music that much better.”
From John Prine to the Osborne Brothers, Camp has worked alongside many famous folks in his career — and he listed them off with a friendly nonchalance. Maybe he was so low-key because fame, whatever that means, never entered the conversation. More sustainable than a one- or two-hit wonder, Camp is a Music City renaissance man, not just recording his own stuff, but writing and producing with others. One of his most recent projects, a Guy Clark tribute album called “This One’s For Him” (co-produced with Clark, no less), just won Americana Album of the Year at the Americana Honors & Awards.
In terms of Camp’s own tunes, he’s got a diverse palate that ranges from old-school bluegrass to electrified country. So far, he’s poured his eclectic tastes into six albums, each with its own distinct character.
“I like a wide variety of sounds. I just hate to be in any kind of category,” he explained. “I don’t know what any record is going to be like until it comes out.”
As far as penning songs for others, he’s co-written hits for the likes of Garth Brooks, Brooks & Dunn, George Strait and Blake Shelton, among others.
What a different world this is than those picking sessions Camp remembers having “under the shade trees” in his boyhood home of Perryville, Arkansas. Or maybe not. Growing up in the ’60s and ’70s, he always understood the direction he was heading — even if he didn’t know exactly where he was going in the music business.
“From the time I could walk, I was dragging a guitar around with me,” he said.
Camp always knew he wanted to make music, and pretty much always has. He learned to play on an old Sears and Roebuck guitar, the same one many others in his family had cut their teeth on. They were a country clan, living far from town and without a lot of distractions, so they made music. Instead of watching TV, Camp remembers he and his dad playing together for hours at night, often until it was time to go to bed.
“Music was my only constant companion,” he said.
With not much around to keep him busy but his guitar and his parents’ record collection, it also became his “whole life,” he added.
It still is, which is why he’s happy to live where he does, surrounded by thousands of people who make their living (or try to) the same way he does. When he’s in a city that happens to not be Nashville, he can’t help but feel there’s something missing. It’s just strange for him not to be constantly surrounded by musicians at every turn.
“It’s weird to me to think that other cities don’t have the same kind of musical backbone,” he said, sounding truly mystified. “So that’s why it’s home to me, I guess.”
It’s good for everyone to get out of town every once in a while, though — especially for a night of music as good as this Saturday is fixing to be. When asked the inevitable reporter question of what he hopes his upcoming audience takes away from the show, Camp chuckled.
“I hope they take armloads of my CDs away with them,” he said, before getting a bit more serious. “I just hope they’ve had a good time and escaped their reality for a couple of hours, you know, and enjoyed the music.”
As anyone who’s seen a Balsam Range show knows, that last bit is just about assured.
Tickets are still available for the first show of the Balsam Range Winter Concert Series by calling 235-2760 or stopping by the Canton Colonial’s box office. Tickets may also be purchased at Smoky Mountain Roasters in Hazelwood.