Balsam Range gives the ‘gift’ of great music
Music surrounds the mountains of Western North Carolina. The area has spawned many accomplished musicians — and some, like Balsam Range, go on to international acclaim. Just in time for the holidays, the talented musicians of Balsam Range present the second annual Art of Music Festival in Nov. 30 – Dec. 2, in two venues in Haywood County.
The three-day festival celebrates the diverse “art of music,” with an opportunity for concertgoers to see top touring acoustic and bluegrass artists and the Atlanta Pops Mini-Orchestra.
“Our vision was to bring in acts we really wanted to see,” said Buddy Melton, Balsam Range lead vocalist and fiddle player. “We’re fans of music, regardless of how it’s classified. There will be something for everyone at this festival.” In fact, the Art of Music festival brings in various styles, including classical, jazz, country and bluegrass.
A festival is born
For several years, the Grammy- and International Bluegrass Music Association (IBMA) award-winning band Balsam Range, presented a winter concert series at the Colonial Theater in Canton. Outgrowing the capacity of the Colonial, the band wanted to give the community a festival — and presented the inaugural Art of Music Festival in December 2016, at Lake Junaluska’s 1,800-seat Stuart Auditorium.
Last year’s festival, featuring Balsam Range, the Atlanta Pops Mini-Orchestra, Marty Stuart, John Driskell Hopkins (from the Zac Brown Band) and more, was a resounding success.
“We want to do something different each year,” Melton said. “But, we’re bringing the Atlanta Pops back, by popular demand. It’s an incredible sound to hear bluegrass with orchestration — it’s a really big, beautiful sound.”
The band picked the first weekend in December because, historically, it was low in visitation to Haywood County. Balsam Range wanted to boost activities in the area, and the 2016 festival did just that.
“People came from 19 states, including California, Washington, and Maine,” Melton said.
Beyond bluegrass Melton feels that people’s perception of bluegrass as a genre may be dated, recalling traditional bluegrass.
“Just as in country music, there’s traditional, as well as new country,” Melton said. “I hear it all the time — people saying, ‘I never thought I’d like bluegrass’ — only to discover bluegrass in a whole new light with a band like Balsam Range.”
The five band members — Marc Pruett, Tim Surrett, Buddy Melton, Darren Nicholson and Caleb Smith — bring their diverse backgrounds to the Balsam Range sound, from country to jazz, gospel to bluegrass.
Balsam Range’s most recent album, ‘Mountain Voodoo,’ was awarded the prestigious Album of the Year Award at the September 2017 IBMA awards. It’s a body of music that ‘stretches the limits,’ including some non-traditional offerings.
“The album’s IBMA award means a lot to the band, and to be accepted for its non-traditional elements is great,” Melton said.
The Art of Music festival offers a variety of events, with free time for participants to visit the sights in Haywood County. Attendees will enjoy a beautiful setting for the festival, from the kickoff concert Nov. 30 at Cataloochee Ranch, to the two days of musical performances Dec. 1-2 at Stuart Auditorium and the Saturday workshops at Lake Junaluska.
“We wanted the Art of Music to be just that — great music in a quality environment,” Melton said. “It’s not a bluegrass festival; it’s a musical event. We’re bringing in people we really love.”
On Friday, Dec. 1, get ready to enjoy Grand Ole Opry member Mike Snider, guitar virtuoso Bryan Sutton and his all-star band — and, the ever-entertaining Balsam Range.
Saturday, Dec. 2 starts with Whitewater Bluegrass; followed by IBMA Vocal Group of the Year Flatt Lonesome; and Darrell Scott, who Melton lauds as “one of the greatest songwriters in the last couple of decades in both country and bluegrass.” Scott has written songs for notables such as Brad Paisley, the Dixie Chicks, Garth Brooks and Sam Bush.
Capping off Saturday will be holiday music, with Balsam Range performing songs from the band’s holiday CD — ‘It’s Christmas Time,’ recorded with orchestration by the Nashville Symphony.
During the Saturday evening performance, Balsam Range will be accompanied by the Atlanta Pops Mini-Orchestra.
“People ask for Christmas music, and it really fits in well with the festival,” Melton said. “And, music from the Atlanta Pops was one of the highlights of last year’s festival.”
On Saturday, Dec. 2, workshops will be offered, including all-skill-level individual instrument instruction, plus master-level workshops. There will be workshops on instrument building, songwriting and mountain dancing. Master level workshops are $50 (limited to 20 people in each master-level workshop), but other workshops are free with festival ticket (first come, first served for workshop participation).
Added bonus kick-off
New this year is the Nov. 30 kick-off concert in the intimate setting of Cataloochee Ranch, high above Maggie Valley.
Melton and Haywood County native and Nashville songwriter, Milan Miller, will perform, followed by Balsam Range member, Darren Nicholson and the Darren Nicholson Band.
“Milan is like the sixth member of Balsam Range,” Melton said. “He’s written about half of our catalog. Milan has been a big part of Balsam Range’s success.”
“Cataloochee Ranch has a passion for music, and we wanted to recognize their passion by holding the kick-off concert at the Ranch,” Melton said.
“We’re thrilled to host the kick-off concert, starring members of Balsam Range,” said Penny Redfern, Cataloochee Ranch music curator. “You can’t find finer guys than this — and we’re proud to partner with them. I enjoyed listening to songs from the ‘Secrets, Dreams and Pretty Things’ album Buddy and Milan released last year. It became a secret dream of mine to get this amazing duo to play at Cataloochee Ranch.”
With a long history of music presentations at the Ranch, Redfern said that when the Nov. 30 concert was announced via email to past guests, tickets sold out in a day.
For information on Cataloochee Ranch and its activities, call (828) 926-1401.
Tickets for the Stuart Auditorium performances are selling fast. For more information on the festival, visit www.balsamrangeartofmusicfestival.com.
All seats to the Stuart Auditorium performances are reserved, and range from $25 to $60 per night, with a $10 price break for the combo Friday and Saturday purchases.
By Carol Viau