Palm of their Hands: Catching up with the region’s busiest front man

Born for the stage: Blake Anthony Ellege rocks Transylvania County Library’s scenic amphitheater in June. Photos by George Carlton


Blake Ellege may well be the busiest professional musician in Western North Carolina, performing more than 250 gigs a year near home and far away. Every year during the holiday season, he magically transforms into Appalachian Santa (see Bold Life’s November 2018 cover story on that important part of Ellege’s life and work). But the rest of the year, he dives headlong into the world of music (he’s been performing since age 4, when he sang gospel in church). At one point, Ellege was fronting eight or more bands, exploring nearly every popular music genre: rock, soul, country, blues, and more. These days he’s scaled back his activities — he’s an entrepreneur (see sidebar) and at present he’s working with a mere four in-demand bands. One of them is Saddletramp, his country-and-western project. Bold Life caught up with Ellege — named “Outlaw Country Music Artist of the Year” last year via The Josie Music Awards at the Grand Ole Opry — for a brief chat between gigs.

Saddletramp is an evolving project; it started out with a different name and a different music focus, didn’t it?

Yes. The group started in 2013 as Blake Ellege and The Country Resonators, a vintage country honky-tonk band. We didn’t play anything later than ’60s country. After five years, we branched out and added ’50s-to-’70s country music, and we did that for another four to five years. Last year, we made a transition to a strictly ’90s country band. 

This year, I decided to make another shift, because I wanted to give our listeners something new and fresh. We change out set lists every six to seven months; we’re learning at least 10 new songs every quarter. At a Saddletramp show, you will be dancing to country party music. And toward the end of every show, we throw in a sprinkling of heavy outlaw country and classic Southern rock.

What sets your group apart from other country bands?

Every song that we play is something that you’ll be able to dance to. It’s a high-energy dance environment. There isn’t a lull in the show whatsoever; we want people up and dancing and partying the whole time. 

I was trained from an early age and taught from an early age to be a front man, to put on a performance. It takes a real showman to have the audience in the palm of their hand and get the crowd going. It’s taken a lot of hard work and a lot of time and a lot of experience to be able to do that. If I’m not in someone’s face and slinging sweat on somebody at a show, I’m not happy.

You front several bands. What’s the most rewarding thing about leading Saddletramp?

I grew up on country music. When I was four, my mom had a convertible Mustang, and I would sing along word for word to every single one of the songs on her cassette player. So this is the music that I love the most, and I pour everything into my performances.

Saddletramp plays Sunday, Sept. 3 at Oklawaha Brewing Company (147 1st Ave. East, Hendersonville); and Friday, Sept. 15 and Friday, Oct. 6 at Southern Appalachian Brewery (822 Locust St., Hendersonville). For a full list of dates for Blake Ellege’s four bands, see


A Toast to the Ultimate Entrepreneur

With his wife Holly Ellege, Blake Anthony Ellege runs the distillery Mountaintop Spirits, “a brand that’s a new take on old-time [moonshine-inspired] recipes that are steeped in heritage — but also accessible for the blue-collar worker, business person, and cocktail aficionado alike,” according to Blake. The couple lives on a high-elevation homestead in the Smokies and say they have been “living by and off the land their whole lives.” Like a typical Ellege enterprise, though, the distillery business is off and running, and Mountain Spirits is on its way to being carried by stores in Fletcher, Brevard, Hendersonville, and as far away as New Hanover County. See the company’s Facebook page for more info.

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