Today we entered North Carolina and began the musical part of our adventure. The goal was to get to a campground close to Kernersville, NC, where one of our favorite bands, Balsam Range, would be performing in the evening. The drive was relatively short (about 150 miles), and we took our time. The campground, Oak Hollow Family Campground in High Point, NC, was wonderful. It is operated by the municipality of High Point, and it had everything a modern camper could want. Except for one thing: quiet. It is next to Interstate 74. We had about an hour to enjoy the pool (which we had all to ourselves) before heading to the concert.
We first met the members of Balsam Range a few years ago when they were one of the featured bands at the Winter Village Bluegrass Festival in Ithaca, NY. Since then they have gone on to win several awards from the IBMA (International Bluegrass Music Association). One of the members of Balsam Range, Buddy Melton, won “male vocalist of the year” a couple years ago. His voice is amazing. Balsam Range does a song that Buddy wrote called “Stacking up the Rocks.” It is an a-cappella, four-part harmony, and it talks about remembering the works that God has done in our lives. Buddy wrote it to mark an event in his life in which God worked a miracle. Buddy had been in a terrible farm accident and spent days hanging between life and death, battling a severe head injury. Hundreds, or maybe thousands of people were praying for him. He (obviously) survived and returned to his full ability to function.
Today, before the concert, while I was waiting in line at a food truck, I struck up a conversation with the man in front of me. I asked him if this was the home area for Balsam Range. (I knew they were from somewhere in NC, but I didn’t know where.) He told me that he thought they were more from the Ashville area. He then told me something that shocked me: he told me that one of the members had died recently. He didn’t know anything more than that, but he thought it was within the last six months or so. I was stunned. I had been on their website recently in order to find their tour dates and locations, and I hadn’t seen anything about this. Could it have been Buddy? Could it have been the banjo-player, Marc Pruett, who is much older than the others? This fellow didn’t know. I decided to be skeptical about this fellow’s information.
When the band took the stage, Buddy was there. (Whew!) Marc was there (whew!). Caleb Smith, the guitarist was there. Darren Nicholson, the mandolinist was there. But … Tim Surrett, the bass player and more-or-less leader of the band, was missing. I couldn’t believe it! Could it be true? Could Tim have passed away? The last time we heard them, last summer, Tim had said at one point that he was living the dream. His experience with Balsam Range had exceeded all his expectations. He had been a gospel singer earlier in his life, and I believe he had won awards in that genre. I’m sure, from hearing the things he has said, that he knows and loves Jesus Christ. I was thinking about all of these things as the band was playing its first few numbers. I was missing Tim. I was grieving a little bit for his loss.
After a few numbers, Darren began to talk to the audience. After a brief introduction he said, “Those of you who know and follow the band have surely noticed that while there are normally five of us, there are only four here tonight. Our bass player Tim Surrett’s mother-in-law passed away this week, and so, obviously, he was unable to be with us tonight. Buddy is handling the bass instead of his usual fiddle for tonight.”
Oh. My. Goodness.
Most of the rest of the concert was pure enjoyment. This band has a wonderful sound, particularly their tight vocal harmonies. They have great stage presence, and they relate easily and well to their audience. Each of the musicians is polished and “alive.” We just love them. We’re so glad Tim was just missing and not gone. (The absence of his voice and Buddy’s fiddle was significant.)