Balsam Range new album released June 17

Band gears up for PlottFest
By Mary Ann Enloe | Jun 02, 2014

Balsam Range is one of the most successful bluegrass-and-more bands ever to call western North Carolina home, and they're coming home June 20 and June 21to Haywood County's Maggie Valley Festival Grounds for a rip roaring weekend at Plottfest.

Buddy Melton, Darren Nicholson, Marc Pruett, Caleb Smith and Tim Surrett started Balsam Range in 2007 in a garage on Mingus Hill in Canton.  Within 24 hours they had their first gig, said Marc Pruett in an earlier interview.

With studio quality musicianship and an uncanny ability to choose audience-pleasing songs, the five longtime friends propelled a jam-session get-together to the top of the charts.

With the strong backing of Mountain Home/Crossroad Studios in Arden, Balsam Range's "Trains I Missed" garnered the International Bluegrass Music Association's prestigious Song of the Year award in 2011.  In 2013 the band's recording of the "Papertown" album paying homage to Canton where most of them live, and its paper mill, earned them the IBMA Album of the Year and much airtime on hit-maker SiriusXM satellite radio.

Last week Balsam Range played a private corporate party at Lake Junaluska's Stuart Auditorium where an enthusiastic audience of 1,300 Edward Jones Investments clients and staff were treated to the latest Balsam Range project, "Five," which is scheduled for a formal rollout the middle of June.

"We named it 'Five' because it's our fifth album and we're the same five who started this little idea in 2007," said emcee Tim Surrett, the band's stand-up bass player.

The quality of the vocals sets Balsam Range apart from other bands of the genre.  Surrett, fiddler Buddy Melton whose early classical violin training gives him an edge in the fiddling business, mandolin player Darren Nicholson and guitar virtuoso Caleb Smith are all hair-on-fire singers.

Setting the tone for the bluegrass beat is Grammy award winning banjo player Dr. Marc Pruitt who previously played with bluegrass icon Ricky Skaggs.  Pruett's alma mater Western Carolina University, recently conferred upon him an honorary doctorate acknowledging his contributions to the perpetuation of Appalachian music and culture.

All the Balsam Range players have appeared on the Grand Ole Opry, both before and since they formed Balsam Range.  More than a decade ago Nicholson celebrated his birthday in Roy Acuff's dressing room, with Little Jimmy Dickens as official cake cutter.

Diversity is the name of the Balsam Range game. They can wrap up a century-old fiddle tune and rip right into Caleb Smith's exciting interpretation of Jim Croce's "Don't Mess Around with Jim."  Balsam Range fans know not to tug on Superman's cape.

Smith, son of a Baptist minister, credits his mother with his Croce credentials.  "I loved that song, and she let me listen to it as long and as loud as I wanted to," he said.

Balsam Range considers 'Five' its best album yet. "Monday Blues" is destined to become a Melton must. It was written by Buncombe County resident Mark Bumgarner. Prolific Nashville songwriter and historian Milan Miller contributed "Chasing Someone Else's Dreams" and "I Spend my Days Below the Ground." Miller is a Waynesville native and graduate of Tuscola High School.

Surrett says the band is introduced worldwide as being from Haywood County.  "We are so proud to call Haywood County home," he said.  A couple of years ago the Haywood County Board of County Commissioners honored their native sons by proclaiming a "Balsam Range Day."

One week may find them in Alaska, the next in Alabama, but home folks get to see them June 20 and 21 when they headline the third annual Plottfest celebrating the Plott hound, North Carolina's state dog which has Haywood County lineage.

Balsam Range plays both Saturday and Sunday. In addition to music, Plottfest hosts sanctioned Plott hound shows, area crafts and food, wagon rides for children, among many activities planned to all ages.  All proceeds benefit the Haywood and Jackson County Head Start program.

"We are so needful and appreciative of Plottfest's contributions to us," said Holly Crawford,  Head Start director. The tens of thousands of dollars the Plottfest Festival has contributed in the past two years have provided coats, week-end food packages and other "extras" for youngsters which otherwise could not have been budgeted for, she said.

The Friday night VIP dinner at Cataloochee Ranch will feature Nashville singer/songwriter John Wiggins, another Haywood County native and Tuscola High graduate.  John and his sister Audrey were a successful Nashville duo and got their start on the Tuscola stage. Audrey is also appearing at Plottfest.

Sponsor tickets for the VIP dinner are $250 and include two dinner tickets, two week-end Plottfest tickets, an advertising/merchandise booth if requested, and other perks.  Check the Plottfest website for further information.

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