Balsam Range, the Grammy- and IBMA-winning bluegrass and acoustic band, has been blazing trails in the music industry and spreading its love of the mountains all over the world.
The band loves the people of Western North Carolina — so much so, that it is presenting the fourth Art of Music (AOM) festival Dec. 6 — 7 at Lake Junaluska, with a kick-off show Dec. 5 at Folkmoot USA.
“We’re excited to be in year four,” said IBMA male vocalist of the year and fiddle player, Buddy Melton. “We’re keeping it new and fresh, bringing some amazing artists.”
If you think this is just a bluegrass festival, think again. It’s not.
The festival has something for every musical taste — including music legend Tim O’Brien; John Driskell Hopkins, of the Zac Brown Band; the Atlanta Pops Orchestra Ensemble; award-winning Sister Sadie; Mike Snider’s comedy and mountain music — plus, Christmas music, too.
Audiences will enjoy performances each night by Balsam Range, the two-time International Bluegrass Music Association (IBMA) Entertainer of the Year. The band got national attention this year with its album “Aeonic,” garnering rave reviews in the Wall Street Journal and Rolling Stone.
Balsam Range is going strong in its 13th year, with its five founding members: Buddy Melton, fiddle and lead tenor; Darren Nicholson, mandolin and vocals; Tim Surrett, stand-up bass, dobro and vocals; Caleb Smith, guitar and vocals; and Marc Pruett, banjo.
Balsam Range continues to break pre-conceived notions about bluegrass. The band’s cover of the Beatles tune “If I needed Someone” is delighting music fans this year, showing the dynamic musical range of Balsam Range.
During Art of Music, Balsam Range will perform a wide range of its hits, plus some new music. Melton said Balsam Range plans to release new singles in early 2020, followed by a new album during the year.
The band discovers new music and incredible musicians during its touring — and brings musical groups to AOM.
“We’re bringing in musicians to give folks the opportunity to discover new music,” Melton said. “This year, we’ll have the Tim O’Brien Band and Sister Sadie.”
Tim O’Brien, Dec. 6
O’Brien has known “many musical paths in his career — from singer-songwriter and honky-tonk crooner to old-time cultivator.”
“Tim O’Brien is one of my personal favorites,” Melton said. “He was the primary voice of the group Hot Rize. Tim’s musical performances are so strong, he’s opened for Alison Krauss, with just himself and his guitar.”
O’Brien brings a band that plays multiple musical styles.
Sister Sadie, Dec. 7
Melton said the performance of the Grammy-nominated Sister Sadie Dec. 7 will bring “a whole new dimension” to the festival.
“Sister Sadie is a group of powerful musicians,” Melton said. “They are 2019 IBMA Vocal Group of the Year.”
This recently-formed band is a confluence of already-accomplished musicians.
“Fiddle player Deanie Richardson is incredible,” Melton said. “She’s been one of the top fiddle players for the Grand Ole Opry band.”
Banjo player Gina Britt is well-known to Balsam Range, having filled-in for Marc Pruett.
Vocalist Dale Ann Bradley is five-time IBMA Female Vocalist of the year.
“She’s independently a great singer,” Melton said.
Tina Adair, who plays mandolin, is also a female vocalist nominee.
“It will be great to have them on stage,” Melton said.
Melton said the band gets requests to bring back several of the groups from previous years.
Atlanta Pops Orchestra Ensemble, Dec. 7
One of the most popular events at Art of Music is the performance by the Atlanta Pops Orchestra Ensemble.
Expect the ‘wow’ factor when Balsam Range performs with the Atlanta Pops.
“If you’ve never heard bluegrass backed by and orchestra, it’s a big, beautiful sound,” Melton said.
Also returning is John Driskell Hopkins, a founding member of the country superstar Zac Brown Band.
“Hop” fulfilled a dream in 2015 when he collaborated with the Atlanta Pops Orchestra on a Christmas album. He’ll perform with the orchestra on his own, then join Balsam Range with the orchestra.
The Saturday performance with the Atlanta Pops is expected to sell out, so everyone is urged to get tickets now.
Darrell Scott, Dec. 7
Returning this year is singer-songwriter and multi-instrumentalist, Darrell Scott, who impressed 2017 AOM festival-goers with his talented performance. He has collaborated with some of the best in the business, including Steve Earle, Sam Bush, Emmylou Harris, Tim O’Brien and Zac Brown Band.
Mike Snider, Dec. 6
“We love to bring back musicians like Mike Snider, who was so well-received,” Melton said.”
Snider is a banjo player and humorist, specializing in old-time mountain music. He had the audience roaring with laughter at the 2017 AOM.
“For me, one of the best parts about Mike’s band is that they keep traditional Appalachian music alive,” Melton said. “His band has some of the best musicians on their instruments. They are as good as it gets.”
Anyone who holds a ticket for either Dec. 6 or 7 AOM performances is invited to attend the Dec. 7 daytime workshops. The full band workshop with Balsam Range is an opportunity for music lovers to ask questions of the band and have some fun, getting to know the band.
There will be break-out workshops for individual instruments: fiddle, mandolin, guitar, bass and banjo, plus a songwriting workshop led by Milan Miller and a dance workshop, with Ted White.
Kick-off performance, Dec. 5
Folkmoot USA hosts the AOM kick-off performance Dec. 5, in Hazelwood.
“You’ll get to see and hear influences in songwriting at the kick-off,” said Melton. “We’ll have Milan Miller, who has written about half of Balsam Range’s catalogue, songwriter John Wiggins and singer Missy Armstrong, one of my favorite female vocalists.”
Melton and Miller have a current chart-topping song, “Who are you Redbird?,” co-written by Miller and Beth Husband.
This is an opportunity to see something totally different than the main performances at AOM, in a more casual environment.
“Art of Music is an opportunity for people to come to Haywood County, experience the music — and have time to explore, dine and enjoy the mountains,” Melton said.
Tickets for the Dec. 6 and 7 AOM performances at the Lake Junaluska Stuart Auditorium are at: www.balsamrangeartofmusicfestival.com/tickets.
Tickets for the Dec. 5 kick-off performance at Folkmoot are at: www.embed.showclix.com/event/balsam-range-art-of-music-festival-kickoff-at-folkmoot
Lake Junaluska lodging packages are available; call 800-222-4930 to book lodging.