2023 Bluegrass Christmas in the Smokies kicks off with a bang

Lorraine Jordan & Carolina Road at the 2023 Bluegrass Christmas in the Smokies – photo © Bill Warren

The first day of the Lorraine Jordan’s three-day Bluegrass Christmas in the Smokies festival at the Convention Center in Gatlinburg, TN, was well attended with the large auditorium filled with appreciative fans.

Jordan was obviously pleased. After kicking off her set with AL Wood’s Sing Me a Bluegrass Song, a very appropriate choice for a weekend filled with great bluegrass music, the hostess began, “What a Thursday night! I don’t know who the promoter is, but they did a great job!”

The festival marks the one year anniversary of her fiddler, Warren Blair, who joined her Carolina Road band following last year’s event. 2023 marks the ninth year of her multi-day holiday-themed program. She launched the festival ten years ago, but it was not held in 2020 due to the global pandemic.

“One good thing came out of COVID,” Jordan joked. “I had to eat my own cooking and lost 75 pounds.”

Veteran banjoist Ben Greene stood by Jordan’s side as he has for the past 19 years, a major milestone for a bluegrass musician. 

Jordan praised her sideman. “Because of him, my band went to a whole new level.”

Thursday’s festival began with The Price Sisters, followed by Donna Ulisse (who co-wrote Mama’s Cross with Jordan), and Ralph Stanley II. Williamson Branch closed out the first day with a Christmas-themed set complete with Santa Claus.

The Williamsons have been a staple at Bluegrass Christmas in the Smokies, performing all nine years.

“This is the first bluegrass festival that we played as Williamson Branch in 2013,” Melody Williamson Keyes announced from the stage. The eldest daughter of the family also expressed her gratitude to Jordan. “She is an advocate for up and coming bluegrass performers.”

During one number, 14-year-old Caroline Williamson sang Why Did Mr. Right Do Me Wrong? to Royce Jordan, Lorraine’s dad.

At the end of the song, the 93-year-old declared, “I didn’t do it!”

The festival continues Friday with the Kody Norris Band, Larry Efaw & the Bluegrass Mountaineers, The Kevin Prater Band, and a tribute to Larry Sparks. Saturday’s lineup includes The Malpass Brothers, Little Roy & Lizzy, The Grascals, The Country Gentlemen Tribute Band, The Gary Brewer Band, and The Grassified. Lorraine Jordan & Carolina Road will perform all three days.

The Mills Auditorium in the Gatlinburg Convention Center is located at 234 Historic Nature Trail in Gatlinburg, TN. For more information, call 919-609-6740.

All photos © Bill Warren.

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About the Author

Sandy Hatley

Sandy Chrisco Hatley is a free lance writer for several NC newspapers and Bluegrass Unlimited magazine. As a teenager, she picked banjo with an all girl band called the Happy Hollow String Band. Today, she plays dobro with her husband's band, the Hatley Family.