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Wednesday, 11 March 2009 19:58

Balsam Range’s mountain mantra

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By Christi Marsico • Staff Writer

Little girls clacked their clogging shoes while families ate hushpuppies and barbecue in anticipation for the band, Balsam Range, to play at the Fiddlin’ Pig in Asheville last Friday night.

Teens in camouflage hats and T-shirts checked out the band’s CDs while the Southern Mountain Fire clogging team strolled through the restaurant claiming their turf and sizing up the onlookers.

Like five train cars hooked together cruising down the track, the musicians of Balsam Range announced their presence.

“We’re having fun already so you might as well go with us,” bass player Tim Surrett said.

Balsam Range performed a smattering of songs from their repertoire, including a few numbers from their latest CD release “Last Train to Kitty Hawk” while some listeners kicked up their heels and others relaxed.

Spread over two picnic tables was the church group from Rocksprings Baptist Church in Crabtree.

Wearing a pink sweater with a napkin in her lap, Frances Clark said seeing Balsam Range at the Fiddlin’ Pig was better than going to Dollywood.

Charlie Simpson, pastor of Rocksprings Baptist Church, believes Balsam Range’s music has made a lasting impression on the local music scene for generations to come.

“Buddy Melton has researched the history and sees who we are and not who we are influenced by,” Simpson said.

Rocksprings Baptist Church member Marlene Hills is a big Balsam Range fan, adding “they seem to work so well together, like peanut butter and jelly. They are an asset to Western North Carolina and represent what Appalachian music is all about.”

As the band took five they talked to The Smoky Mountain News about their latest CD and a few other musical anecdotes.

Balsam Range, based in Haywood County, is comprised of Marc Pruett on banjo, Caleb Smith on guitar, Darren Nicholson on mandolin, Tim Surrett on bass, and Buddy Melton on fiddle. All five sing lead on some songs and bring aspects of bluegrass, gospel and country music steeped in an Appalachian-meets-Grand Ole Opry style to their performances.

Smith’s favorite song off the latest CD is the title song “Last Train to Kittyhawk.” The guitarist feels the bands background sets them apart from other bluegrass ensembles.

“Our versatility is a big deal. People don’t expect to hear the diversity we bring, and not a lot of people are doing that,” Smith said.

Surrett declared he “plays the bass with a Led Zeppelin mentality,” and is grateful for the support Balsam Range has had.

“I never call people fans because I am making friends,” Surrett said. “It’s really nice to play this quality of music and go home at night.”CD release concert


Q&A

So what is Balsam Range currently listening to when they are not performing?

Smith: Miles Davis

Melton: Osmond Brothers, Journey

Surrett: Miles Davis

Pruett: Louis Armstrong

Nicholson: Joe Nichols, Osmond Brothers

What advice would these bluegrass professionals give to younger musicians?

Smith: “Work together and do positive things.”

Melton: “Be comfortable with your own personal limitations. To do something great surround yourself with great musicians.”

Surrett: “Practice and learn to play together.”

Pruett: “Be open minded to growing. Be humble. Treat people fairly and have fun. Don’t let it consume you, and treat it as a business.”

Nicholson: “Be good to folks. Stay true to yourself, and play to the best of your abilities.”

How they would describe the band and/or their latest CD in one word:

Smith: “Influenced”

Melton: “Interesting”

Surrett: “Teamwork”

Pruett: “Productive”

Nicholson: “Sexy”

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