Melton returns to music

Balsam Range member recovering well
By Stina Sieg | Apr 13, 2012
Photo by: Stina Sieg Buddy Melton, a singer and fiddler for Balsam Range, is doing well after a serious head drama in March. He recently made his first public appearance at the band's last show of the Winter Concert Series in Canton.

Buddy Melton has performed more shows with Balsam Range than he can remember, but he’ll never forget Saturday’s concert. No one who was there ever will.

The place was packed with expectant, hopeful people, all wondering the same things: Would Melton show up? And if he did, would he sound the same?

This would be the 43-year-old’s first public appearance since a major head injury on his farm had thrust him into a long hospitalization and a reconstructive surgery. During much of the ordeal, it was a challenge for him to talk, eat or even see, let alone play the fiddle or sing. Though only a few hundred people can fit in the Colonial Theatre, the site of the recent show, it’s safe to say that countless others across the country and the world were there in spirit, all waiting for word that Melton was, finally, back.

And he is.

He proved it that night, playing nearly the entire show. Though his voice might have been just a bit softer than normal, it was just as affecting as always — maybe even more so. The crowd went crazy, giving him and the band at least three standing ovations.

Back on his Crabtree farm a few days later, he described the whole thing as “a little overwhelming,” especially when he stepped on stage to do his first song of the night, the band’s huge hit “Trains I Missed.” As he sang the tune about life’s trials and joys, it seemed as though the entire audience was holding their breath, hoping for the best. They didn’t know that Melton was hoping, too.

“I was relieved, being able to get through it unscathed, without breaking down, without losing it,” he said, adding that in retrospect he would have put that emotional powerhouse of a song a little farther down the set list.

He also admitted, however, that it was good to have such a challenge right off the bat. That’s the kind of moment that makes you stronger — and he’s had plenty of those recently.

Early-morning accident

Melton’s life changed in a second in the early morning hours of March 12, when he was busy putting cattle into a trailer. As he’s done many times before, he swung the gate of the trailer to close it, but instead of it latching, it hit one of his cows. She didn’t take it well, and kicked the gate right back at him, hitting him in the face. Instantly, Melton knew this was “more than just a bump on the head,” he said, though he had no idea how bad it was. All alone but luckily still conscious, he dialed 9-1-1 and walked back to the house, though it was getting hard to breathe and see, and he was bleeding copiously.

“I thought if I pass out, I better pass out in the front yard where someone might find me,” he said.

As he waited for the ambulance, he called his wife and brother-in-law — both to let them know what had happened and to make sure the cows were put away. What he didn’t know then was that his right eye socket, nose and forehead had been shattered and the lining of his brain had been torn.

Luckily, he wasn’t alone for long. Within minutes, his neighbor and first responder, Tyrell Mehaffey, was on the scene.

“He was really great and very calm and very reassuring,” Melton remembers, adding that having someone arrive so quickly “made a big difference.”

First responder Bill Fowler and an ambulance soon followed.

Though the accident was severe, Melton remembers the entire chain of events, from that fateful blow to the ambulance ride to MedWest-Haywood and eventually to Mission Hospital in Asheville. His eyes were swollen shut and he was in extreme pain, but didn’t pass out. He ended spending the next two days in the hospital — his first hospitalization since birth.

Eventually, he was sent home, where he tried to get his strength up for the reconstructive surgery. In the end, it was moved up a few days out of necessity, as Melton was leaking spinal fluid and needed immediate attention. He received a craniotomy — which means a bone flap was temporarily removed from his skull so doctors could have access to his brain — and his nose, cheek and socket were reconstructed, as well. He wasn’t released from the hospital until March 29.

As Melton readied for the 10-hour surgery, he wasn’t worried about vanity, he explained. He just wanted to get better.

“I got a lot to do, and I didn’t care what I looked like,” he remembers thinking. “But I asked to see if they could make me look like George Clooney or Brad Pitt, but that didn’t work out.”

Doctors did, however, do a masterful job of making him look almost as he did before. 

His “new” eye socket is a little rounder than the other, and there’s an impressive scar, hidden by hair, that runs across the top of his forehead. He still can’t smell, and his sense of taste isn’t what it used to be, and those metal plates in his head are going to make airport security a little tougher. But he knows these are small prices to pay to be here.

Back to Balsam Range

Above anything, Melton’s first priority was getting better for his family. He hated to put his wife, Carla, and 7-year-old daughter, Addie, through all this waiting and wondering.

Carla “was right there beside me through the whole thing,” Melton said. “She was very strong through the whole thing.”

Bluegrass fans will be happy to learn that after his family, Melton was most concerned with getting better for his other family — his Balsam Range buddies. As he was going through his ordeal, they were busy cutting the group’s fourth album. It made Melton feel crazy not to be in the studio with them.

So, the very day he got out of the hospital, he called up band member Caleb Smith to pick him up and surprise the rest of the guys at the studio.

“I just felt like I needed to do it,” Melton said. “I needed to be a part of it. I needed to prove I could do it.”

He hadn’t picked up a fiddle or sang a song since the accident and he no idea how it would go. He also knew there was only one way to find out. When he arrived at the studio, his friends were “shocked and surprised,” he said. They were also as curious as he was about his abilities. He ended up pleasantly surprising them all, himself included, by getting through quite a few songs, his talent clearly intact.

“I think it was a relief for all of us to be able to say, ‘I’m still weakened but it’s there, and I think it’s going to be fine,’” he said.

Rallying around

Though the response to Melton’s recovery was massive at his Saturday show, it was just a tiny taste of the outpouring of support he has received in the last month. In addition to the numerous emails and calls he’s gotten, he still has stacks and stacks of encouraging cards and letters to go through from friends and fans all over the world.

“They’ve rallied around me and my family through this, and I can’t thank them enough,” he said, getting a little choked up.

This support amazes and humbles Melton, though being in the spotlight isn’t his natural habitat. A self-described “quiet, reserved person,” he’d rather talk about his band than himself. The more kind things people say about him and his recovery, the more he believes it says about the power of Balsam Range.

“I feel like all the acknowledgement, all the support I’ve received all over the world is truly a testament to what we’ve achieved as a band,” he said.

As for his future with the group, there’s no question in Melton’s mind that he’ll continue on. People have actually been asking about that, wondering out loud whether he’s nervous to continue in a profession that exposes him to all kinds of risks, from plane travel to long car trips, always with long hours.

Melton brushes those worries aside. If this accident proves anything, he explained, it’s that you can get hurt anywhere, even at your own home. There are no guarantees out there, so he’s going to go ahead and do what he loves and not worry about.

If he had any advice for others, that would be it.

“Go and live — and I think that’s what we’re supposed to do — and experience life,” he said. “Meet people. There’s such great people in the world.”

For more information on Balsam Range, including upcoming shows and how to contact the band, visit www.balsamrange.com.

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