Balsam Range Winter Concert Series starts up againSaturday fundraiser to feature songwriter John Wiggins
A little more than a year ago, Tim Surrett and the rest of Balsam Range were hoping for the best. The premier concert of the first-ever monthly Balsam Range Winter Concert Series had yet to take place, and none of these bluegrass big guns were sure how it would fly. With stars Bobby Hicks and Tony Rice booked for that first show, Surrett knew the music would be good, but was that going to be enough to get people out on a cold Canton night?
Oh, yes. They came in droves. As Surrett remembers, that evening (like plenty more that winter), was sold out. He still sounds tickled when he describes watching and playing with those two musical legends.
“I knew that was going to be a great show, with a couple of my heroes, personally, and it was,” he said. “And they were all great shows.”
This winter, Balsam Range is gearing up to do it all over again — with a new cast of characters. Starting this week, Surrett and his fellow players will be hosting some of their favorite musical friends and idols the first Saturday of every month through April. The concerts, all slated for 7:30 p.m. at Canton’s Colonial Theatre, are “a labor of love,” Surrett said.
These are shows “people won’t hear anywhere else,” he insisted. “I tell you that.”
While he expects every performance to be special in its own spontaneous way, this first concert is especially important for Surrett. More than just a show, the night is a fundraiser for Haywood County’s Meals on Wheels program. Though the idea for a benefit came from mandolin player Darren Nicholson, it was December guest John Wiggins who suggested MOW as the recipient.
Surrett, who works for the county’s Department of Social Services when he’s not plucking his bass, understands exactly how important an event such as this can be. Right now, there are somewhere around 40 people on the waiting list to get the hot, free meals MOW delivers weekly to residents in need.
“That’s heartbreaking,” Surrett said.
Thankfully, Saturday’s concert could make a dent in that daunting number. So far, about $10,000 has been pledged by local residents and businesses. It’s an amount Surrett hopes to see climb even higher in the next couple of days.
“We’re trying to do as much as we can,” he said.
In that “we,” he includes Wiggins, who sounds happy — and maybe a touch nervous — to be playing his first show in the county in years. He explained that his mother always had the utmost respect for the charity, and that she even used to volunteer for MOW. He called this concert an “honor.”
“Any time I can come and do a show in Haywood County for a good cause it’s fun,” he said.
It’s also a little intimidating, he admitted. Now living in Nashville, he has made quite a name for himself in the songwriting world and is used to playing for studio head honchos and scores of strangers. Somehow, however, playing for old high school buddies and former neighbors is little more intimidating.
“I think any performer will tell you the same thing,” he said.
Maybe that’s part of why this weekend is so exciting for Wiggins, who’s now in his late 40s. In addition to hanging out with longtime friends, he’ll have the chance to show them what he’s been doing in Music City for the last quarter century. While people around here probably remember those years he spent playing around Waynesville and Maggie Valley and the span of time he and his sister, Audrey, were recording albums, they might not know that Wiggins’ pen has been behind many country hits.
His roster includes “Tequila Makes Her Clothes Fall Off,” recorded by Joe Nichols, and “Who Are You When I’m Not Looking?” made famous by Blake Shelton. Many more big-time musicians, from Alan Jackson to Ricky Skaggs, have also cut Wiggins’ songs.
This Saturday, he imagines that his audience will hear some tunes they know and some they don’t. When he’s not accompanied by the Balsam Range boys, these songs will be delivered in an intimate, stripped-down style.
“Well, what I do is just me and a guitar and a bar stool,” he said, adding that his shows are always laced with humor, spontaneous stories and whatever else “pops into this crazy head of mine.”
Despite his few pre-show jitters, Wiggins sounds ready to take the Colonial’s stage. While in Haywood, he hopes to see some folks he palled around with decades ago at music joints throughout these mountains. He hopes to show people a good time and play music they will remember.
More than anything, though, he hopes to make a difference.
“I think the most important thing is being able to come home and give back to the community,” he said.
To pledge support to this Meals on Wheels concert fundraiser, contact Jeanne Naber at 356-2442. Donation levels range all the way to $5,000, and higher donation levels include concert tickets, business logo promotion and “meet-and-greet” autograph sessions with the artists backstage. For tickets, visit www.balsamrange.com or call 235-2760. Note that this show is $25, while other shows in the series will be $15.
Season tickets to the Balsam Range Winter Concert Series are still available, and individual tickets will still be sold for each show. At each concert, expect Balsam Range and their guests to each perform separately, though some impromptu jamming is also pretty likely.
Jan. 3 — Deep River Rising (Bryan Sutton, David Holt and T. Michael Coleman)
Feb. 1 — Harris Brothers
March 3 — Larry Cordle, Carl Jackson and Jerry Salley
April 7 — David Johnson