Firefly Music Series

By Lesa Browning with Colby Balch

An amazing development is happening in the music industry, but it’s not happening in Nashville, and it’s not happening in LA or New York. It’s happening instead in the picturesque southern Appalachian Mountains, in the little town of Blue Ridge, Georgia.

The Firefly Music Series in Blue Ridge, GA has hosted Grammy-winning artists, artists with multiple Billboard chart-topping hits, platinum-selling recording artists, and winners of numerous awards from esteemed institutions such as the Academy of Country Music, the Country Music Association, the American Music Awards and many more. Artists including Shawn Mullins, American Idol winner Kris Allen, Emerson Hart of the band Tonic, and country stars Collin Raye, Bryan White and Jamie O’Neal.

These artists have not been playing in large stadiums, amphitheaters, theaters, or any other form of traditional music venue. Instead, they’ve been playing intimate shows in privately owned cabins and lake houses, sometimes even at the local coffee shop, with audiences of only 50 to 100 guests. Though house concerts have become extremely popular with lesser-known, independent artists, who love the intimacy and connectivity between artist and audience, until now they haven’t crossed the radar of more recognizable, chart-topping artists in the industry. Why would highly sought after and accomplished performers, who’ve sold out much larger venues in the big cities, choose to play a small show in a small town? We sat down to ask Firefly Music Blue Ridge founder Colby Balch what his secret is, and how he created his unique concert series in a tucked away hamlet far from the bright lights of the big city.

MusicMixDaily: So what gave you the idea to host these shows in the first place?

Colby: A few years ago, I received a message on airbnb from popular independent artist Ron Pope, who was performing that year at Music Midtown in Atlanta. Ron was looking for a place to bring his entire band for a couple weeks to write some songs, rehearse for an upcoming tour, and give his band and crew a fun and valuable bonding experience at the same time. I own and manage a number of large cabins in Blue Ridge, having moved up here after I retired from the circus a few years back, so I was able to set them up with a fantastic place to stay.

MusicMixDaily: I’m sorry, did you say you “retired from the circus??”

Colby: I sure did. I performed for about a dozen years as a flying trapeze artist with circuses all over the world, including Ringling Brothers’ Barnum & Bailey Circus here in the US.

MusicMixDaily: That’s crazy! I bet you had some incredible adventures and more than a few interesting stories to tell!

Colby: Definitely. Being in show business is a fascinating experience, and I was blessed to work alongside some of the most talented people I’ve ever seen. Plus, it gave me a lot of insight into the world of performing artists. I learned what it’s like to always be on the road, hustling from gig to gig, and living life “behind the curtain”.

MusicMixDaily: That probably helps a lot relating to artists in the music industry. Tell us about how you got started with your concert series, and what was your first show?

Colby: After Ron and his band stayed with us, it got me thinking that Blue Ridge has so much to offer to visiting artists, as a place to unwind for a few days in the middle of a hectic tour, or to bring their family and friends to stay with them for a vacation. Having the cabins available gave me a chance to offer something to artists that they don’t get with a traditional show, and make coming to Blue Ridge stand out as a place to come play. I started by thinking of some of my favorite music, then reached out through artists’ websites to their booking agents and gave them my pitch. A lot of them weren’t interested, since our budget is less than larger venues, but some agents realized that their artists would really appreciate the chance to have a free vacation.

Our very first show was Kevn Kinney, frontman and lead singer of the band Drivin’ N Cryin’. I grew up listening to all of their records and going to as many of their shows as I could, so being able to bring him for our first show was a dream come true! It made me incredibly nervous, because I was jumping straight into something I had no clue how to pull off, but somehow the whole event turned out as perfect as could be. The cabin made a perfect setting for music, creating a personal, intimate experience you can’t get at a larger venue. Artist and audience alike had an absolute blast, and I knew that I had stumbled onto something special.

Music Mix Daily: Sounds fantastic. Are all the shows held at that same cabin?

Colby: No, that’s part of the fun. Each show we pick a different location based on what’s available, what time of year it is, and the size of audience we expect. The audience loves it because they get a different setting each time, always with fantastic music, and the variety of location showcases the natural beauty of Blue Ridge itself. We’ve had shows at lake houses, river cabins, mountain view cabins, a local coffee shop, and even out on a gorgeous pasture by a trophy trout fishing stream, where we had to bring in generators to run the sound and lights. Often times we don’t reveal the actual location of a show until a couple days before the show, which adds a touch of mystery and excitement for our guests.

 Photo by Spring Wilshart

Photo by Spring Wilshart

Music Mix Daily: What a novel twist on attending a concert! So how have the artists responded to your music series?

Colby: That’s been the best part. Every single artist has expressed ardent enthusiasm to return to play for us again, and have become recruiters and ambassadors of our music series to their fellow artists. Which has helped us get on the radar of performers we never would have drawn the attention of previously. When an artist hears about a show from one of their friends and colleagues, it means much more than hearing about it from an agent or a producer. Several of our artists have even come back to stay at our cabins a second and a third time, and have fallen in love with Blue Ridge as much as those of us fortunate to live here or visit frequently. Blue Ridge itself is such a special place that it’s as much of a draw for the artists as the shows we put on.

Photo by Spring Wilshart

Music Mix Daily: Wonderful all around! What are your plans for the future?

Colby: We’re going to build on what we accomplished last year, bringing an even more impressive lineup to Blue Ridge, along with returning artists who already are begging us to get on our calendar again. We’re also adding new venues, as many of our loyal fans have offered the use of their own beautiful homes for a show, and local cabin rental companies see it as a way to showcase their most luxurious properties. We’ve got some great opportunities presenting themselves because people have so thoroughly enjoyed what we’ve put on so far: it really opens up a lot of doors for us in so many ways. We’re even looking at creating a music festival out of the concept, hosting multiple shows at multiple venues over a long weekend, and attracting an audience from further away to see what a unique concept we’ve created in such a special location.

Music Mix Daily: Can’t wait for that! Thanks for your time, and keep bringing the music!

You can check out Colby’s site for more information