Gary Brewer & The Kentucky Ramblers at 2018 Bluegrass Christmas in the Smokies – photo © Bill Warren
Friday and Saturday at Bluegrass Christmas in the Smokies were filled to the brim with music. Friday kicked off with North Carolina’s Deeper Shade of Blue who have 14 years under their belt. They combine traditional bluegrass and Gospel in the best way possible.
The Dean Osborne Band was up next. Dean was joined by instructors from the Kentucky School of Bluegrass and Traditional Music. Dean has fronted a band since the mid-1980s and delivers top-notch bluegrass and Gospel music. The band celebrated Bobby Osborne’s birthday by playing a mandolin trio featuring Bobby Masters, Scott Napier, and Lauren Price-Napier. Circa Blue followed. They have charted songs from their last project, Once Upon A Time.
Larry Efaw once again brought the Bluegrass Mountaineers to Bluegrass Christmas in the Smokies. Larry and the band have played every show in this series from its inception by the Larkin Family. The band presents old time bluegrass in the Ralph Stanley style, and was hi-jacked in their evening performance by a bunch that claimed to be from Mayberry. There was Goober, Floyd, Opie, Andy, Otis, and Barney! The Garrett Newton band followed Larry. Garrett is a young man that has become a student of the banjo and the history of bluegrass music. He is well mentored by Lorraine Jordan and Allen Dyer. Garrett has enrolled in school and is majoring in forestry.
Hobo Joe – aka Danny Stanley – came in on the breeze toward the end of Garrett’s show. He did a couple of his famous imitations. Danny brought his own band on in the evening. He presented some of his imitations and some great traditional country music. The ETSU Pride Band under the direction od Professor Dan (Dan Boner) closed out the Friday show. ETSU is putting out first class musicians that are becoming staples in many bands. A number of them were featured in bands throughout the weekend.
Saturday saw the crowd thin out a little, as a number of people that had to travel to the Carolinas, Virginia, or others points east left that morning because of the threat of winter storm Diego. But there was still a large crowd on hand to enjoy the show. Wilson Banjo Company led off, a group that was formed to promote Wilson Banjos. It has since taken on a life of its own. They feature two ETSU students and offer traditional bluegrass music. The Suggins Brothers – there are no Suggins or brothers in the band! – presented some very good, hard driving bluegrass music. They play primarily in the southeast. “We believe every show deserves our best effort and that each audience member might be our next biggest fan.” Sound advice for every band.
Gary Brewer and the Kentucky Ramblers hit the stage in their sparkling best! The current band features three generations of the Brewer family. Finn is the patriarch. Gary fronts the band. and his sons Wayne and Mason play bass and mandolin. Mason is also a really good buck dancer. The band always presents some of the best old time music. Wayne was joined by his wife, Alyssa, to reprise If I Needed You that they sang at their wedding. Constant Change came in from North Carolina. They provide the listener with some of the best bluegrass music around. Clifton Preddy has surrounded himself with some of North Carolina’s best.
Salt & Light exploded onto the stage. This is a young, but experienced, family band. They present a high energy, high quality show. The band is comprised of the oldest six of eight siblings. Parker is the eldest – in his early 20s – and plays banjo. He is followed by Daniel on fiddle, Morgan on guitar, Kyndal on mandolin, Garrett – aka Cletis – on bass, and 13 year old Norah on fiddle. This band is well worth seeing. Lorraine brought Carolina Road to the stage earlier than planned due to the impending storm. Pinecastle records presented a plaque to recognize True Grass Again as the current number one song in bluegrass. The band, all of the volunteers, and the crowd members wearing the “Bluegrass Christmas in the Smokies” t-shirts gathered for a group picture.
Lorraine and the people traveling on her bus then headed out to try to get home to North Carolina ahead of the storm. They made it home safely after an all-night, white knuckle drive. Randy Graham took over MC duties to close out the festival.
Big Country Bluegrass is celebrating 30+ years as a band, presenting distinctive old time bluegrass music. Eddie Gill has one of the most recognizable voices today and the show is a crowd favorite wherever they play. The Malpass Brothers were slated to close the festival, but were snowed in and couldn’t make it. Paul Williams and the Victory Trio did the closing set. Paul is one of the true legends of bluegrass music, a national treasure. He concentrates on bluegrass Gospel with the Victory Trio. Paul was joined by Dan Moneyhun, Jerry Keys, Suzy Keys, Adam Winstead, and Paul’s son, Richey.
The 2019 festival will run from December 11th thru the 14th.
Merry Christmas from Bluegrass in the Smokies!!