The band is named for a particular mountain ridge in the county where the five members of Balsam Range grew up. “We’re Haywood County folks,” says vocalist and guitarist Caleb Smith. “We all live in the Canton district of the county, where the paper mill is. Two of the guys were actually born in a county neighboring us, but they’ve been here the majority of their lives.”
Balsam Range features Marc Pruett on banjo, Buddy Melton on fiddle and vocals, Tim Surrett on upright bass, and Darren Nicholson on mandolin, along with Smith. The acclaimed bluegrass quintet now averages 150 shows a year, from Maine to Oregon. “Everybody does their thing, and we all get along,” Smith says. “A lot of it has to do with us all being from the same area, growing up around the same stuff. We’re all used to the same things, we all think the same things are funny, so we get along great, travel well together. Do get tired of each other after about six or seven days in a row,” he laughs.
“There are so many cool things around us, whether it’s a place or an event or whatever, that make for really good songs. We sing a lot about things that happen around here.”
To Smith it’s about building an identity. “When somebody hears the first four bars of a song on the radio, and they know exactly who you are, that’s what I want. That’s what we all want.”
The band feeds off the talent and good musical vibes in this area. “There’s so much energy in the music, so much rhythm,” Smith says. “I think a lot of that goes back to the dance part of the heritage. The people who were playing music for the flat-footers and the cloggers 100 years ago had to be energetic. I think that energy is here, and has pushed into us as well. Folks ask us why our singing is so much different. I think that where we’re from, the way that we talk, the way that we phrase, that carries over to our singing too. And that makes us stand apart.”
Smith grew up in an atmosphere that fostered music. “My dad’s a guitar player, a Doc Watson/Merle Travis finger style guy. Both my granddads play guitar. I’ve got uncles that play guitar. So when I was coming up I didn’t want to play the guitar — there were too many guitar players in my family already. So I started playing banjo and mandolin when I was 12.