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Published on October 15th, 2013 | by Ballard Lesemann

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John Driskell Hopkins and Balsam Range Warm Things Up for Southern Ground

Atlanta-based bassist/guitarist and singer John Driskell Hopkins (a.k.a. “Hop”) may have important obligations this weekend on Daniel Island as the bassist with the Zac Brown Band, but he seems equally as excited about his bluegrass gig at the Windjammer on Fri. Oct. 19.

The day before he’ll perform with his main group at the massive, two-day Southern Ground Music & Food Festival, Hopkins will join his pals in the North Carolina-based bluegrass/folk combo Balsam Range at the Isle of Palms venue as part of a “pre-festival party” show. It’s one of several change-of-pace side projects the busy musician tangles with these days.

“I’ve enjoyed playing shows with my other bands and projects, like with the Mosier Brothers out of Atlanta [they performed together at last month’s Southern Ground fest in Nashville] or my rock band in Atlanta, Brighter Shade,” Hopkins says. “Of course, Balsam Range and I did an album together last year titled Daylight, and I’ve enjoyed playing around the country with them at the Southern Ground festivals and elsewhere over the last year.”

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Balsam Range (provided)

Between tours and festival shows across the U.S. with the Zac Brown Band over the last two years, Hopkins switched to banjo and guitar and worked with Balsam Range’s Buddy Melton (fiddle), Darren Nicholson (mandolin), Marc Pruett (banjo), Caleb Smith (guitar), and Tim Surrett (bass, dobro) on the arrangements and lyrics for the original collection Daylight.

“When the Zac Brown Band started playing MerleFest, the Telluride Bluegrass Festival, and other places that are primarily bluegrass-oriented, I had an awakened interest in that music,” Hopkins says. “I had a banjo when I was in high school, and I learned a few rolls here and there, but now I’m taking active lessons and I’m getting after it like I really want to know it, you know? I’m getting my roll down, and I’m really enjoying rubbing elbows with the Balsam Range guys and the musicians they know.”

Last month, Balsam Range earned several top honors at the International Bluegrass Music Association Awards held in Raleigh, N.C.

“Bluegrass is an amazing genre,” says Hopkins, who flew in from a ZBB tour to accompany Balsam Range at the IBM awards show. “It’s very family-oriented with lots of great folks. And the musicianship can be unbelievable.”

From their 2008 smash LP The Foundation (Southern Ground) to their latest album Uncaged (Atlantic), elements of traditional bluegrass and Appalachian music in general has colored the Zac Brown Band sound to one extent or another. Those folksy sounds will dominate the Thursday night show at the Jammer for sure.

“I like the traditional stuff, and I also like the innovation in the newgrass side of it,” Hopkins says. “It’ll be great to get back to the Windjammer [where the ZBB used to perform before they scored national success] with friends and family and play all of this stuff with Balsam Range.”

John Driskell Hopkins & Balsam Range perform at the Windjammer on Fri. Oct. 18 at 8 p.m. Tickets are on sale for $20 (at the door) and $15 (advance). Visit johndriskellhopkins.com and balsamrange.com for more.

Visit southerngroundfestival.com and zacbrownband.com for info and updates on the Southern Ground & Music Festival.

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John Driskell Hokins and Balsam Range (provided)

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About the Author

Ballard Lesemann

is a musician and writer. Born and raised in Charleston, S.C., he spent years playing in bands and working for Flagpole Magazine in the bustling music town of Athens, Ga. He returned to his hometown and served more than seven years as the Charleston City Paper's music editor. He's better at drumming than he is at playing guitar.



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