Newly formed Balsam Range features some of the finest

By Sarah Kucharski • Staff Writer

Balsam Range, a newly formed group of all-star pickers, will play a free concert at 7:30 p.m. Friday, March 16 at Haywood Community College.


“As Marc Pruett says, ‘This one’s on us,’” said fiddler and high tenor singer Buddy Melton.

The group features Pruett, who won a Grammy for his banjo playing on Ricky Skagg’s Bluegrass Rules!, Melton, who has recorded with artists including Rhonda Vincent and Sam Bush, Tim Surrett, an upright bass player formerly of The Kingsmen Quartet, mandolin player Darren Nicholson, recipient of the International Bluegrass Music Association’s Album of the Year award, and guitarist Caleb Smith.

The show will be a joint CD release for Melton and a sort of community showcase to separate the band members from their past projects and let the audience know who Balsam Range is as a group, Melton said.

The men of Balsam Range came together after years of playing together on the same circuits and at times in the same band. This is the third band that Melton has been in with Pruett. Most recently the two were part of Whitewater Bluegrass. Pruett played on Melton’s just released solo album, and Surrett played on both Melton’s and Nicholson’s recent release.

“We kind of did work on projects together and the quality music together was there and it kind of got us talking and getting together and jamming,” Melton said.

The opportunity to make good music in a locally based band was too good to pass up for Surrett. Playing gospel with the Kingsmen he spent nine months of the year on the road. Now he’s lending his Christian influences to Balsam Range’s traditional bluegrass, allowing him to carry that kind of message beyond a church crowd.

For now the band is concentrating on getting enough standards down together to entertain the masses — while a lot of musicians may despise playing the too often requested tunes such as “Rocky Top,” such songs resonate with listeners. Otherwise, “we’re playing more of a traditional mix of the Monroe, Stanley, Flat and Scruggs, and Jimmy Martin,” Surrett said.

Group members are motivated by the band’s potential. Having such a strong group of musicians close by — the band members are from Haywood and Jackson counties — and several opportunities to play, from festivals to music clubs, means a future doing some really great and fun shows, Melton said.

To learn more about Balsam Range and upcoming performances go to

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