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Sheldon will ring with acoustic bluegrass

Balsam Range will play at the Sheldon Theatre March 11. Members are Marc Pruett, Buddy Melton, Tim Surrett, Darren Nicholson and Caleb Smith. (Photo by David J. Simchock)1 / 2
Tim Surrett, who plays bass for Balsam Range, also owns Mountain Home Music Company, a recording company that specializes in bluegras. (Photo by David J. Simchock)2 / 2

One of the top-rated bluegrass groups in the country, Balsam Range, will perform its unique brand of vocal and instrumental music at 7:30 p.m. Saturday, March 11, at the Sheldon Theatre.

For their first concert in Red Wing, the five-member acoustic band promises an evening of "heartfelt delivery, pulsing instrumentals and tight harmonies (that) blend elements of jazz, country, gospel, swing and old-time music into a fresh Southern sound," Sheldon officials said.

Balsam Range is on top of the bluegrass world, according to the International Bluegrass Music Association. In 2016 the group was nominated by the IBMA in three categories — Entertainer, Vocal Group and Vocalist of the Year.

The band has received numerous nominations over several years. It won vocal group honors and lead tenor Buddy Melton was named top male vocalist in 2014. Balsam Range had vocal group and song of the year honors in 2015.

Members are Melton, who also plays fiddle; Darren Nicholson, mandolin and vocals; Tim Surrett, bass and dobro; Caleb Smith, guitar and vocals; and Marc Pruett, banjo.

"We never really set out to be where we are," said Melton.

All five members came from the same area in Haywood County, N.C., and all had careers with various musicians and groups including Jubal Foster, Doc Watson, the Crowe Brothers, the Kingsmen Quartet, Ricky Skaggs and others.

"We all came back to the same area," Melton said. "We got together in 2007 to make some music for the enjoyment of it — for fun."

Ten years later, the five are still together. That's an amazing accomplishment, he acknowledged. One of the factors that keeps them together is the fact that they're all "basically from the same town," which makes the group like a family.

Being successful helps a lot. They travel frequently, but it enables them to provide for their families while doing something they all thoroughly enjoy.

A mutual sense of place is another key ingredient.

Their home county is surrounded by majestic mountains. This place where the Great Smoky Mountains meet the Blue Ridge Mountains is known as the Balsam Range — hence the group's name.

The area has "a really strong musical background," Melton said. "It's traditional style music. A lot of it is based around dance and rhythm. The origin of our music is primarily for dance purposes."

Their home area was a big influence on the group's sixth and newest album, "Mountain Voodoo."

Mountain Home describes the album as "Songs of journey, home, sense of place, hardcore stomping drive, and longing. Fiery instrumental parts alternate with heavy, deep ballads overlaid by vocal harmonies."

Balsam Range will perform songs from the new album and other works. They pull from a variety of sources and members write some of the songs, but Melton's No. 1 source of songs is Milan Miller, a good friend listed as "staff writer" in their publicity.

Miller is "a phenomenal songwriter," Melton said. "For me, it's the lyrics. A great song lives forever because of the lyrics."

One writer commented that Balsam Range "fills the air with traditional, yet contemporary sounds, things that are new, yet still somehow familiar."

"We always try to keep moving forward," Melton said. Recent projects included shows with the Atlanta Pops Orchestra and in April they'll be back in the studio.

For now they're on the road to Red Wing. "We're just gonna have a good time," Melton said, "with lots of variety, four guys singing their own styles and upbeat, pretty songs."

"We'll have a great time" as well, he added. "Part of the fun for us is that we always leave with new friends."

Tickets to hear Balsam Range are $13 to $25. Call 651-388-8700, visit the box office or go online to www.sheldontheatre.org.

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