Balsam Range, the Grammy- and IBMA-winning band, is on a roll — fresh off winning Entertainer of the Year in September at the International Bluegrass Music Association (IBMA) awards. This exciting, home-grown WNC band, is giving music lovers a gift, with an expanded Art of Music festival the week after Thanksgiving.

“This really isn't a bluegrass festival,” said lead singer and fiddle player Buddy Melton. “Sure, there will be some bluegrass, since that’s the heritage of the mountains we call home. But this is a music festival, with artists from several genres.”

The expanded festival has something for every musical taste — from country, with legendary artists Shenandoah, to classics, with to the Atlanta Pops Orchestra Ensemble, to the inspirational voice of Celtic singer Chloe Agnew, to expert instrumentalists in an All-star band, to rowdy fun with The Cleverlys.

Audiences will enjoy performances each night by the talented members of Balsam Range. Not only did Balsam Range win Entertainer of the Year at the 2018 IBMAs, but also, Melton won best male vocalist and Tim Surrett won Best Bass Player. In its 12-year history, Balsam Range has won numerous awards, including the IBMA 2017 best album for its CD, Mountain Voodoo.

A band like no other

Balsam Range travels the world, spreading love for their musical artistry — and often stretching the boundaries of bluegrass — with its five talented musicians: Buddy Melton, fiddle; Caleb Smith, guitar; Tim Surrett bass/ dobro; Darren Nicholson, mandolin; and Marc Pruett, banjo. All are Haywood County residents.

In addition to its musicianship, this group is unique with its five original members — 12-years-strong together — stretching the boundaries of the bluegrass form.

This longevity led to the title of their soon-to-be-released album, Aeonic. The superlative word describes something that is “age-long, lasting an aeon,” which is “fitting to where we are,” Melton said.

“There’s a lot of history in our body of work,” Melton said. “We’ve lasted 12 years with the same five guys. There are traditions that came across the sea with this music, and we’ve taken it forward to pass the torch on to new bands.”

A festival is born

For several years, Balsam Range, presented a winter concert series at Canton’s Colonial Theater. Quickly outgrowing the venue’s capacity, the band wanted to give the community a musical festival to bring visitors to WNC and help the economy in a traditionally slower time of the year. And so, Balsam Range’s Art of Music Festival began December 2016.

Last year, the performance nights were at sell-out at Lake Junaluska’s 1,800-seat Stuart Auditorium.

Kick-off events

The impressive music festival is expanding with several kick-off events in Haywood County Nov. 27 – 29. 

Members of Balsam Range envisioned week-long festivities since the inception of the Art of Music festival.

This year, kick off events include the Darren Nicholson Band Tuesday, Nov. 27 at Frog Level Brewing, Waynesville, followed by a “Bluegrass Boogie” jam at The Gem-Boojum Brewing, Waynesville, and “The Art of the Jam,” at Elevated Mountain Distilling in Maggie Valley, both Wednesday, Nov. 28.

“The jams are open to whoever wants to participate,” Melton said. “We want to showcase local talent. There are some extremely talented local folks who don’t tour like Balsam Range. This will be like the tradition of years ago, before people were consumed with cell phones and social media, when musicians got together to jam and people danced.”

Two larger events held Thursday, Nov. 29 will give music lovers a choice between Terry Baucom’s Dukes of Drive at the Colonial Theater in Canton — or a songwriters’ dinner, at the Folkmoot Center in Waynesville. Each event will have members of Balsam Range participating.

The Nov. 29 performance in Canton will feature two of the all-time great banjo players, Balsam Range’s Marc Pruett and Terry Baucom, whose nickname, “The Duke of Drive,” comes from Baucom’s “propelling” banjo style.

The Nov. 29 performance at Waynesville’s Folkmoot Friendship Center will have “a song-writers in the ‘round feeling,” Melton said. 

The songwriters event (titled “It All Starts with a Song”) includes a barbecue dinner and after-dinner session with musicians who have written countless songs for Balsam Range — Milan Miller, John Wiggins, Aaron Bibelhauser and Mark Bumgarner — all telling their fascinating backstories.

The main events

The five-day festival culminates Nov. 30 and Dec. 1 with workshops at Lake Junaluska and evening performances at Stuart Auditorium.

Workshops

• Master-level workshops will be Friday afternoon, Nov. 30 at the Terrace Hotel, Lake Junaluska.

The master-musician workshops include Terry Baucom (banjo); Tim Stafford (guitar); Barry Bales (bass); Stuart Duncan (fiddle); and Frank Solivan (mandolin). Tickets and pre-registration are required for master workshops. Email mandy.tenery@balsamrange.com.

• All access workshops will be 9 a.m. – 3 p.m., Saturday, Dec. 1 at The Terrace Hotel and Harrell Center, Lake Junaluska.

These sessions are open to anyone holding a ticket to Saturday’s show. Enjoy the full-band Q&A, where attendees interact with Balsam Range. Additionally, there will be individual instrument workshops with members of Balsam Range; instrument building; songwriting; and mountain dance. Children are welcome with an accompanying adult. 

Main performances

“The Art of Music celebrates and embraces music in an acoustic setting,” Melton said. “People may come for one group or style of music and discover they like other forms of music, too.”

Expect some of Balsam Range’s favorites, some holiday music — and some never-heard-before cuts from the band’s soon-to-be-released Aeonic CD.

• Friday, Nov. 30 — The 7 p.m. performance is headlined by country greats, Shenandoah, with original lead singer Marty Raybon; plus, enjoy an All-Star band of gifted musicians (who led the master-class workshops); and a set by Balsam Range.

•Saturday, Dec. 1 — The evening performance opens with Whitewater Bluegrass Co. (6 p.m.) and Reggie and Ryan Harris (7 p.m.); then features fun with The Cleverlys; a standout performance by the Atlanta Pops Orchestra Ensemble, with Celtic singer Chloe Agnew, capped off by Balsam Range. The Atlanta Pops has been so popular, it’s back for its third year at the festival.

“One of the great parts about our traveling all over is that we get to discover great artists,” Melton said. “Then, we get to bring back that music to our home for others to enjoy.”

The Cleverlys is an example.

“They’re a fun, novelty band,” Melton said. “Whenever I see The Cleverlys, I get happy and know I’ll be entertained. They’re one of my favorite groups — not just because you’ll be laughing — but because they are great musicians.” 

The festival gives music lovers an appreciation of artists, some rarely seen on stage — like fiddle player Stuart Duncan, who has played for many musicians, including Alison Krauss, Diana Krall and Barbra Streisand.

Festival details

People come from around the country for this festival, so purchase tickets soon.

Melton said there are still a few rooms available at Lake Junaluska for those who want to stay near the activities. Those visiting from out-of-town may want to use Leap Frog Tours for shuttle service and “Discover Waynesville” tours.

“It’s going to be a relaxing weekend of great music,” Melton said. “We’d love to see everyone come out and enjoy it.”

For Art of Music festival ticket information, visit www.balsamrangeartofmusicfestival.com.

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