Lorraine Jordan finds Sue Lee in the crowd at Bluegrass Christmas in the Smokies – photo © Bill Warren
A change in dates and venue for this year’s annual east Tennessee holiday bluegrass festival appears to be a success.
“We had a terrific first day,” stated promoter, Lorraine Jordan. “It looks like we have a near-packed house. So many fans have come back. They are so loyal to Christmas in the Smokies.”
Held for its first time in an auditorium within the Gatlinburg Convention Center, 90-plus-year-old Sue Lee has been present for all eleven years of Jordan’s musical event. Williamson Branch has also been a regular on the schedule for the past nine years.
Melody Williamson Keyes announced from stage, “We played here at Christmas in the Smokies before we even became an official band.”
In addition to Williamson Branch, who did an all-Christmas set, the first day of the festival featured performances by Ralph Stanley II and the Clinch Mountain Boys, Prairie Wildfire, the Bluegrass All Stars, Billy & the Kids, and host band, Lorraine Jordan & Carolina Road.
After recognizing veterans in attendance, Jordan’s band kicked off the festivities. She introduced each band member, welcoming her newest, guitarist Wayne Morris, to the fold.
“Everyone in the band has jobs here at the festival,” Jordan explained.
“My job is to tune and guard Lorraine’s mandolin,” Morris mused.
Jordan teased as she introduced her longtime side man, Ben Greene. “I have kept a banjo player longer than most women can keep a husband…18 years.”
Prior to singing Bill Monroe’s Old Mandolin, the Lady of Tradition cradled her instrument and declared, “I honor Bill Monroe in all I do.”
Following her set, Doug Pugh of Mountain Bluegrass, the newest show to air on the Bluegrass Jamboree, announced from the audience as Jordan strolled through the crowd with a microphone, “The Lady of Tradition’s new single, A Little Bit of Bluegrass, is number one [on his radio show].”
Next up were Turnberry Record Artists, the Bluegrass All Stars, featuring Billy Lee Cox on banjo, Stacy Wilcox on bass, Warren Blair on fiddle, Stanley Efaw on mandolin, with Jeff Brown, Rebekah Speer, and Greg Blake on guitars.
“These are top shelf guys and girl,” Cox stressed as he introduced the band.
Their show featured a couple of special guests. Speer invited Jimmy Blackwood of the Blackwood Brothers to join her on stage to sing several hymns. Then Cox called TikTok star, nine-year-old Landon Brooks, to the stage to pick a couple of tunes on the banjo. The internet celebrity wowed the crowd with his versions of Foggy Mountain Breakdown and Reuben.
They were followed by Lorraine’s Coffee House regulars, Billy & the Kids, featuring rising stars, Brandy Jo, 14, on mandolin, and her brothers, Landon, 11, on bass, and Jacob, 9, on percussion. Their dad accompanied them on guitar.
Prairie Wildfire from Buffalo, WY, took the stage next. The young female trio of talented singers and musicians (Sage Palser on mandolin, Tessa Taylor on clawhammer banjo, and Morgan Blaney on upright bass) were accompanied on guitar by songwriter, David Stewart.
“They used to work for me, now I work for them,” Stewart confessed.
Prairie Wildfire featured a special guest on dobro, Matt Leadbetter, son of the late Phil Leadbetter and a member of the Dale Ann Bradley band.
At the close of their set, Stewart (who has penned several Carolina Road tunes) praised Jordan. “Lorraine always recognizes the songwriters. Thank you for what you’ve done for me and my career.”
During Ralph II’s portion of the evening, he recognized the milestone of his band.
“We are celebrating 76 years of the Clinch Mountain Boys led by a Stanley.”
MCs for the evening included Lorraine’s 92-year-old dad, Royce Jordan, and Highway 40 Bluegrass’ Doug Whitley. Sound was provided by GBS Sound.
Jordan and Whitley both praised David and Tracy Chichester of Ohio for their diligence and dedication in managing the festival’s audio system.
Whitley shared, “Tracy lost her dad on Friday, and when Lorraine was unable to secure other sound, they came.”
Music continues throughout Friday with the King James Boys, Larry Efaw & the Bluegrass Mountaineers, Joe Mullins & the Radio Ramblers, Fast Track, and Jordan & Carolina Road. Saturday’s show includes a number of acts – the Larry Stephenson Band, Deeper Shade of Blue, Nothin’ Fancy, Nick Chandler & Delivered, The Family Sowell, Caroline & Company, and others. A highlight on Satuday will be a gospel show hosted by Randy Graham with Carolina Road, featuring special guests, Paul Williams and Josh Goforth. Saturday’s schedule also includes instrument workshops on banjo, bass, guitar, mandolin, fiddle, and dobro.
The Mills Auditorium in the Gatlinburg Convention is located at 234 Historic Nature Trail in Gatlinburg, TN. For more information, call 919-609-6740.