Fast Track at the 2022 Bluegrass Christmas in the Smokies – photo © Bill Warren
With new dates (the weekend before Thanksgiving), a new venue (WL Mills Auditorium in the Gatlinburg Convention Center), but the same quality show from its promoter (Lorraine Jordan) proved a recipe for success at the 11th annual Bluegrass Christmas in the Smokies.
“We had the biggest crowd I’ve ever had. We averaged 900 people per day,” a pleased Jordan reflected at the close of the festival. “The (instrument) workshops went well. There were lots of kids on stage this weekend. Everybody seemed very happy and had a good time.”
Typical for Bluegrass Christmas in the Smokies, there were plenty of surprises and special guests throughout the three-day event. On Friday, Jordan presented her newest member of Carolina Road, Wayne Morris, with a pocket watch during their set.
“You are our 23rd honorary Carolina Road member,” she explained as Jordan handed her new lead guitarist the gift. “Bill Monroe gave his band members belt buckles. I give pocket watches.”
Paul Williams, ambassador to Christmas in the Smokies and member of the Bluegrass Music Hall of Fame, played and sang, not only on Saturday’s gospel set with Randy Graham, Josh Goforth, and the Carolina Road band. The Hall of Famer also performed a song with the Dean Osborne Band earlier in the day. Williams’ son, Richie, joined in on guitar for part of the gospel set.
Graham praised Williams for his talents. “I’ve never been given to hero worship, but this man comes closest to it. He is a treasure.”
Williams shared sage advice during the afternoon gospel portion, “Go spread the gospel and use as few words as possible.”
Other special guests throughout the weekend included gifted vocalist, Caleb Daughtery, sitting in with the band, Harbourtown, and dobroist, Matt Leadbetter, performing two sets with Wyoming’s Prairie Wildfire.
Both pickers and fans celebrated the freedom to assemble together again after the pandemic shutdowns. Larry Efaw brought 16 family members that included his son, Stanley, and his son-in-law, Stacy Wilcox, who also performed on stage with other bands.
There was plenty of jokes and laughter. During Efaw’s set, bassist, Mikayla Burrows, gave her fiddling husband, Adam, a hard time over his dietary choices.
“He ate 12 donuts! Why don’t you eat a salad?” she pointedly asked.
“I’d rather die happy than worry about that donut I didn’t have,” Adam retorted.
During Jordan’s portion of the show, she admired an attendee’s sparkling jacket. The lady promptly approached the stage and handed the Lady of Tradition her garment, which Jordan donned the remainder of her set.
Following a rousing version of Bluegrass Breakdown on the mandolin, she asked the audience, “Did they keep up with Mama?”
While in the gospel show, former Carolina Road member, Josh Goforth, joked about all the different types of Baptists in the Smokies. “There are also Buzzard Baptists. They only go to church for funerals. They don’t go in, they just circle the building.”
In the banjo workshop, Ben Greene shared how we had recently lost three of “the best,” J.D. Crowe, Bill Emerson, and Sonny Osborne.
That prompted Randy Graham to tease his band mate, “How are you feeling?”
In addition to Greene’s banjo workshop, Josh Goforth held workshops on guitar, mandolin, and fiddle, Bailey Moore did one on bass, and Justus Sowell taught one on dobro.
Music flowed freely all three days with great audio from GBS Sound of Ohio, and MC work from Lorraine’s 92-year-old dad, Royce Jordan, and Highway 40 Bluegrass’ Doug Whitley.
Other great bands included Larry Sparks & the Lonesome Ramblers, the Larry Stephenson Band, Joe Mullins & the Radio Ramblers, Fast Track, and Deeper Shade of Blue. There were ten separate groups performing on Saturday alone with the Family Sowell doing an entire Christmas program for their portion.
Jordan concluded, “We are excited to come back (to Gatlinburg) next year.” Dates for the 2023 Bluegrass Christmas in the Smokies Festival are set for November 16-18. New bands to the festival in the ’23 line-up include: Authentic Unlimited, the Malpass Brothers, Little Roy & Lizzy, the Grascals, and the Kody Norris Show to name a few. For tickets, call 919-609-6740, visit the festival online, or reach out by email.
In 2023, Lorraine Jordan & Carolina Road will continue to serve as host band for Willow Oak Bluegrass Festival in Roxboro, NC, on Father’s Day Weekend, plus a new event, Bluegrass in the Blue Ridge, an indoor festival in the Meadowview Conference Center and Hotel in Kingsport, TN. Held on April 14-15, 2023, the festival will benefit the East Tennessee State University Bluegrass Program. Other bands performing include the Lonesome River Band, Alan Bibey & Grasstowne, Deeper Shade of Blue, and others. For tickets, call 919-609-6740 or contact by email.