The Balsam Mountain Inn’s Songwriters-in-the-Round series, begun in 1996, brings some of the nation’s best lyricists and musicians to the inn for monthly performances in the inn’s Grand Dining Room.
Based on similar in-the-round performances at Nashville’s famous Bluebird Cafe, the Balsam version began in 1996, the idea of innkeeper Merrily Teasley and her friend Paul Craft. Teasley’s previous inn had been near Nashville, so she was a known entity in that town, and Craft was a professional songwriter who had penned many country and western hits, among them: “Brother Jukebox”, “It’s me Again Margaret” and “Drop Kick Me Jesus (Through the Goal Posts of Life)”. His Music City connections were legion.
Songwriters are usually fine performers in their own rights, but in many cases their calling cards are their specific songwriting talents. These are the people who write the lyrics that many well-known country and americana musicians make famous. And, in exchange for weekends at Balsam and a cut of the ticket sales, some of Nashville’s best began making the trip west. On Saturday they’d sit in a small circle in the dining room with the audience all around, and they’d swap tales and sing songs. Grammy winners are numerous at Balsam, and Songwriters-in-the-Round performances are authentic and extraordinary.
Now, 16 years later, the series is as popular as ever.
Longtime inn staffer Betty Jones has helped promote the shows since their inception.
“For the longest time, to be included in the event you had to have a major hit recorded by a major artist,” Jones recalls. “We aren’t quite as strict now, but most of our performers have had that kind of success, and many have won Grammys.”
Jones has stayed in touch with many Balsam “alumni”, some of whom have gone on to major record deals. Others were legends before they arrived. Billy Edd Wheeler and Cowboy Jack Clement have played Balsam.
“I am very passionate about these shows,” says Jones. “It’s hard to convey the level of talent that comes to Balsam to share their music and the stories behind the music.”
One annual favorite and cases in point are “The Cowgirl, the Diva and the Shameless Hussy” – Becky Hobbs, Benita Hill and Kacey Jones – who perform both as a trio and separately.
Hobbs, who has topped the charts with “Angels Among Us” (Alabama) and “Jones on the Jukebox”, recently completed a Smithsonian-funded play entitled “Nanyahi”, the story of famous Cherokee Nancy Ward. Hill, who has sung with the Allman Brothers and written chart-topping songs for Garth Brooks, is also owner of the voice you hear in the “Santa Baby” commercials for Jaguar Automobiles. And Jones, a regular guest on Garrison Keillor’s “Prairie Home Companion”, wrote “I’m The One Mama Warned You About” (Mickey Gilley), and sang her song “You’re the Reason our Kids are Ugly” with Delbert McClinton on her acclaimed CD “Every Man I Love is Either Married, Gay, or Dead.”
The husband-wife duo of Linda Davis and Lang Scott are popular return performers, as is Bill Whyte. Davis toured for some time with Reba McEntire, and Davis and Scott’s daughter Hillary is a member of the pop country group Lady Antebellum. Whyte is a comedian and songwriter and is a DJ on WSM in Nashville.