Balsam Range headed to Grand Ole Opry

Haywood's home-grown band will join John Driskell Hopkins March 8
By Mary Ann Enloe | Jan 27, 2013
John Driskell Hopkins, left, and Balsam Range will perform in Nashville in March.

The white-hot bluegrass-and-more band headquartered in Haywood County found out late last week they will be performing March 8 with John Driskell Hopkins of the Zac Brown Band on the stage of the mecca of country music.

“Performing on the Grand Ole Opry is one of those things you always dream of doing but feels out of reach,” said crowd-pleasing fiddler Buddy Melton who has been with Balsam Range since its beginning.   “It’s kind of like playing Little League baseball and dreaming of the major leagues only to find yourself in the World Series throwing the first pitch.”

Darren Nicholson, Balsam Range’s IBMA-award winning mandolin player and vocalist has played on the Opry stage before.

“This is just awesome for the band,” he said.

The group’s  roster is rounded out by Tim Surrett who sings, plays bass and dobro and emcees the shows; Caleb Smith, guitar virtuoso and vocalist; and founder Marc Pruett, Grammy-award winning banjo player.

Balsam Range’s triumphant trek to the altar of Americana music started with a chance airing on Sirius/XM’s Bluegrass Junction of an older Balsam Range favorite “Blue Mountain.”

This is a plaintive ballad featuring Melton’s high tenor voice.  John Driskell Hopkins was listening.

Hopkins, bass player with the chart-topping Zac Brown Band, was ready to launch an independent project of his original songs but hadn’t settled on the band he wanted.

He didn’t know Haywood County’s Balsam Range from Home on the Range but when he heard their sound, he knew he’d found his band.

Hopkins called Melton, and  soon Balsam Range was collaborating on Hopkins’ album “Daylight.”

A sold-out barn-burning performance at Canton’s Colonial Theatre followed and brought the finished product to the local stage. The rest is history.

“Daylight” quickly became the darling of DJ’s and downloaders.

“I’m grateful and excited by the buzz surrounding ‘Daylight,’” said Hopkins.  “Balsam Range has built a beautiful home for these songs.  I hope to be writing again soon and I hope to bring a lot of this positive experience back to ZBB as well as look forward to another project with Balsam Range in the future.”

Hopkins has played on the Opry with the Zac Brown Band and said Balsam Range is a “no-brainer for the Opry.  They stand up strongly next to any of the greats.”

Hopkins and Balsam Range will perform two songs from “Daylight” at the March 8 Grand Ole Opry.

“I’m doubly honored to be able to play my own songs in one of the greatest music venues in the world,” Hopkins said.

Sunday, Balsam Range joined the Zac Brown Band at Thompson Bolin arena in Knoxville for a performance of  “I Will Lay Me Down.”

Zac Brown sings it on “Daylight.”

Next Friday night, Feb. 1, Hopkins and Balsam Range will perform most of the songs on the album at West Asheville’s Isis Restaurant and Music Hall on Haywood Road.

The album and Nashville performance was preceded by a relatively quick rise to fame.

The band was nominated in 2010 for International Bluegrass Music Association’s Emerging Artists of the Year Award, and in 2011, they won the IBMA award for Song of the Year “Trains I Missed.”

The release of “Papertown” drew rave reviews and created a buzz about 2013 IBMA award probabilities.

The  Haywood County Board of Commissioners declared Aug. 10, 2012, as Balsam Range Day in the county and the band’s Winter Concert series held monthly at the Colonial Theater in Canton has been playing to sell-out crowds.

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