BR welcomes John Driskell Hopkins

Zac Brown Band songster comes to Canton
By Mary Ann Enloe | Dec 31, 2012
Photo by: Courtesy photo Like many people across the country, Grammy Award-winner John Driskell Hopkins, front, has become entranced by Balsam Range's particular brand of bluegrass. The band worked on his most recent album, and in turn Hopkins will be playing their concert series this Saturday.

Folks tuning in to today's country music channels know the Grammy-award-winning Zac Brown Band. Atlanta's John Driskell Hopkins has been doing vocals and playing guitar with ZBB since 2005 and enjoys engineering and songwriting credits on the band's platinum-selling "You Get What You Give" and "The Foundation" albums. When the multi-talented Hopkins decided to produce a solo project featuring his own songs, he looked to Haywood County's white-hot, bluegrass-and-more Balsam Range to be his accompaniment band.

"I was listening to Bluegrass Junction on Sirius/XM and heard Balsam Range's 'Blue Mountain',"  said Hopkins in a recent telephone interview. "I liked their sound, so I did what everybody does when they want to get in touch with people — I went online. And then I called Buddy."

Buddy is crowd-pleasing Balsam Range fiddler Buddy Melton who sings the plaintive ballad, one of BR's most requested songs.

"I knew that was the sound I wanted," said Hopkins. "They're all good players, they have a professional tone, and I related to them musically. I believed that if I met these guys, we'd be friends."

And friends they became.

Hopkins came to Clyde, Balsam Range journeyed to Atlanta and the result was "Daylight," a bluegrass album with a little bit of country, a little bit of rock 'n' roll and something for everybody. The official rollout date is Jan. 22, but "Daylight" will be available at Canton's historic Colonial Theatre this Saturday night, at the next installment of BR's Winter Concert Series.

Hard-driving "Runaway Train" with dobro wizard Jerry Douglas is bound to be a favorite.

"It's probably the most fun," said Hopkins. "We scream and holler in it."

Asked what he thought the break-out song might be, Hopkins studied a minute and then said he'd probably go with his guest Zac Brown on "I Will Lay Me Down."

"It's hard to beat Zac Brown's vocals," he said.

When the same question was posed later to Balsam Range founder Marc Pruett, he didn't hesitate.

"Oh, I think it will be 'I Will Lay Me Down,'" Pruett said, without knowing Hopkins' response.

BR's mighty mandolin player Darren Nicholson and his friend Steve Sutton —the IBMA-winning, banjo-playing phenomenon from Waynesville who toured with such bluegrass greats as Jimmy Martin, Rhonda Vincent and Alecia Nugent — were on their way to Atlanta the day of the Hopkins interview to perform with Hopkins.

"They'll be playing with me and my old rock band Brighter Shade," Hopkins said.

When the two got back, Nicholson described the experience as "...absolutely awesome."

Pruett, a chart-topping songwriter and Grammy-award winner, had this to say about John Driskell Hopkins: "John Hopkins is a mature, modern songwriter, but he does draw on the deep history of southern traditions. He's a power singer as well. John easily navigates between 'pumping beat' songs, to the touching and sublime. He does a great job in a band setting, and he is equally at home as a solo performer. I am proud of the work we all did on his new recording 'Daylight,' and I treasure his friendship."

Folks lucky enough to hold tickets to Saturday night's sold-out Balsam Range Winter Concert Series performance with guest artist John Driskell Hopkins are in for a barn burner. For everybody else, the next one is Feb. 2, featuring seven-time IBMA bass player of the year Missy Raines and the New Hip. For information, call the Colonial Theatre box office, 235-2760.

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