Balsam Range and WCU Wind Ensemble perform for Friends of the Arts

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On Sunday, Sept. 24, the bluegrass group Balsam Range and the Western Carolina University Wind Ensemble gave an inspiring performance in the Bardo Arts Center for Friends of the Arts and community members.

Western Carolina’s Friends of the Arts put on the concert. Friends of the Arts is a group of community members, faculty and alumni who raise funds for the College of Fine and Performing Arts to better the student experience and involvement. They work to give students the opportunity to play alongside and enjoy talent such as Balsam Range.

This academic year marks ten years since the College of Fine and Performing Arts began at Western Carolina. The College has grown to 700 students in the past decade. To celebrate the anniversary, the Friends of the Arts are putting on 10 concerts throughout the year. The concert on Sept. 24 was the first.

This concert was specifically geared for members of the Friends of the Arts but others were invited, as well. The time before the concert began was filled with people greeting each other like old friends. A lot of the members of the organization know each other and these concerts work well as an opportunity for them to reconnect as well as enjoy the entertainment provided. Many members brought friends and family with them who were able to use that time to learn more about the Friends of the Arts and consider becoming members themselves.

Once everyone entered the performance hall for the start of the show, many people crucial to the organization and financial supporters were recognized. The University Chancellor David Belcher and his wife Susan are among the top supporters of the arts and were recognized during this time.

Once the show began the audience was surprised by the opening act, the Junior Appalachian Musicians, a group of young children playing bluegrass music. The group combined two groups, one from Jackson County and one from the town of Blue Ridge.

“The Junior Appalachian Musicians provide communities the tools and support they need to teach children to play and dance to traditional old time and bluegrass music,” the program stated.

Later in the show a member of Balsam Range expressed how inspiring it is to see young children learning and making music.

“Everyone has to start somewhere,” he said.

Once the Junior Appalachian Musicians were done, the Western Carolina wind ensemble, under the direction of Dr. Margaret Underwood, gave a beautiful performance of a piece entitled Symphony No. 6.

After the wind ensemble, Balsam Range finally took the stage. Their performance was bright and full of fun. They played many original songs from their various albums. Some of those songs included “Blue Mountain”, “Mountain Voodoo” and “Burning Georgia Down,” a crowd favorite. They also played a few covers of bluegrass favorites such as “Matthew” by John Denver.

The group of five men has been making music nearly their whole lives and the energy they bring as a bluegrass band is unmatched. They kept the audience laughing and smiling throughout their entire performance. The level of musical skill they bring to the stage is phenomenal and they have many awards to prove that. The guitar player, Caleb Smith, even makes his own guitars.

Raised in the mountains, the band finds a lot of inspiration for their roots. They said they feel once you come to these mountains you can’t really escape them. There is always going to be a part you take with you. That is what they try to do with their music.

The highlight of the show was, by far, when the Western Carolina orchestra came out to perform with Balsam Range. The result of combining a classical orchestra and a talented bluegrass band was a sound that surprised everyone in the audience.

The combined performance was moving and created a sound that was hard to explain.

The strings and brass added another layer to the bluegrass group that was neither classical or bluegrass, but a new genre in its own.

The concert was overall successful and enjoyed by all. Diane Bonsall, Administrative Support to the Dean of the College of Fine and Performing Arts and Liaison to Friends of the Arts said they were thrilled with the way the concert turned out.

The purpose of the concert was to celebrate and appreciate the members as well as try to bring in new members. She said she feels this happened and thought the concert was a lot of fun.
For more information about the Friends of the Arts or their upcoming events visit or call 828-227-7028.