Balsam Range takes 'Album of the Year' award

By Mary Ann Enloe | Sep 29, 2013
Balsam Range prepares to walk down the red carpet at the International Bluegrass Music Association awards in Raleigh.

Haywood County's own bluegrass-and-more band Balsam Range brought home the International Bluegrass Music Association's Album of the Year award Thursday night from the star-studded 2013 IBMA awards show held at Duke Energy Center for the Performing Arts in Raleigh.

"Papertown", Balsam Range's much-heralded album featuring the song of the same name written by Tuscola graduate and Nashville songwriter Milan Miller, won out over the Gibson Brothers' "They Called it Music"; "The Old School" by Peter Rowan; The SteelDrivers' "Hammer Down"; and "Dear Sister" by Claire Lynch. "Papertown" is on the Mountain Home label.

Before heading for Raleigh, Balsam Range's Grammy-award winning Marc Pruett who plays a blistering banjo, was philosophical about the band's chances.

"Twenty-five percent of IBMA's voting members are located in California, and we haven't played California," he said.  "The Gibson Brothers are big out there, and we're up against them in almost every category."

Pruett also talked about Balsam Range's two songs vying for Song of the Year:  "Any Old Road (Will Take You There)" which Pruett wrote with Carl Jackson and Jerry Salley, and Milan Miller's "Papertown."

"The two songs may cancel each other out," he said. "But we're tickled that they both made the final cut."   The Gibson Brothers did win Song of the Year with "They Called it Music."

Bluegrass's brightest and best were on the ballot for Entertainer of the Year:  Balsam Range, Blue Highway, Daily & Vincent, the Del McCoury Band, and the Gibson Brothers.  That award went to the Gibson Brothers. Only dues-paying members of IBMA who have some connection to bluegrass music may vote.

The association was founded in 1990 in Owensboro, Kentucky and made its way to Raleigh by way of Lousville, then Nashville.  The year 2013 was the organization's first year in North Carolina's capital, where its awards show and business sessions will be held for at least the next two years.

"Raleigh really rolled out the red carpet for us," said IBMA board member and Balsam Range bass player and vocalist Tim Surrett.

Thursday night's presenters and performers alike paid tribute to North Carolina native and banjo and bluegrass legend Earl Scruggs whose mastery of the 3-finger, North Carolina banjo style propelled the instrument to the pole position in a band.  Scruggs introduced baby boomers to the banjo by his "Ballad of Jed Clampett," the theme for the TV hit of the '60's, The Beverly Hillbillies.

Raleigh's 2013 entrance into the awards-show arena will be remembered for Tony Rice's induction into the IBMA Hall of Fame and his acceptance speech. Rice, who lives in Rockingham County, is an iconic acoustic guitar player and was a powerful singer who hasn't sung in 20 years.

Rice speaks in a scratchy whisper because of vocal cord injuries. Thursday night in his remarks, Rice sent a message to former IBMA winner Alison Krauss who had to bow out of her scheduled Raleigh performance at the last minute because of similar vocal cord problems.

"I have to really concentrate, and I'm not sure I can do this. If my Maker wants me to, I will," said Rice in his raspy voice.   After seconds of silence, Rice began speaking in  strong, resonant tones.  "Alison, we can get better.  It takes a lot of work but we can get better."

The packed house jumped to its feet. After Rice left the podium, off-stage announcer Ned Luberecke of Sirius/XM said, "Folks, this is just an opinion. But I think we've seen something miraculous here tonight."

Surrett accepted Thursday night's award on behalf of Balsam Range, flanked by Marc Pruett, Caleb Smith, Darren Nicholson and Buddy Melton, all original members of the band formed in 2007.

Melton received an award early in the evening for his contribution to Terry Baucom's "What'll I Do." In Surrett's remarks, he thanked the people of Haywood County, Canton and the paper mill Evergreen Packaging.

"It's the place we call home," he said, echoing the words of the award-winning album.