Bluegrass First Class to be held as scheduled in February 2021

The pandemic has had a devastating effect on live music shows this year. No one knows when we will be able to resume some level of normalcy, but veteran promoter Milton Harkey is working diligently toward keeping everyone safe while hosting Bluegrass First Class, his all-star bluegrass event held each February in Asheville, NC.

The former IBMA board chairman spent this past weekend in western North Carolina meeting with Crowne Plaza Resort personnel to develop a plan which would ensure that the indoor music event could proceed, and set a precedent for live music in 2021.

“People know my first priority is to keep everyone safe and provide a good, quality event,” shared the festival organizer. “We realize how important it is to take reasonable steps for the health and safety of all attendees, staff, and musicians.”

Harkey has meticulously developed a plan of action. Although ticket sales are ongoing and seats are still available, MRH Bluegrass Productions is currently limiting seating to 500.

“Bluegrass First Class will strictly comply with operating plans developed in partnership with local and state health departments. This will include enhanced cleaning practices. Upon arrival, you will see signage and sanitation stations throughout the hotel and Expo Center. Guests will be offered a free sanitization kit when checking in. The day of the show we will be offering temperature checks to all the attendees and will have masks on hand if warranted. Social distancing will be observed based on the number of people allowed in the Expo Center. There will be one entry, and one exit. Additional staff will be provided for traffic management.

Cleaning behind the scenes at the Expo Center be done before and after the event. We will have a designated cleaning crew to disinfect the entire area thoroughly before and after each four hour block of entertainment using, among other things, a professional grade mist fogger to accomplish this task. High traffic areas, bathrooms, and contact surfaces will be cleaned more frequently.”

Operating plans include:

• Exclusive to 500 ticketed guests (more to be admitted if permitted)

• Guests will see signage and sanitation stations throughout the hotel, and Expo Center

• Attendees, staff, and musicians will have a temperature check upon entry to expo center

• Masks will be encouraged, free masks will be provided for all guests if warranted

• HVAC system will provide clean, and fresh air to the Expo Center.

• Designated restrooms, entry and exit points 

• Temperature checks for everyone entering Expo Center

• Enhanced cleaning practices

Musicians and fans are anxious to return to live music events. Hopefully, Bluegrass First Class will pave the way for more in-person shows in the coming year.

Sammy Shelor, banjoist of the Lonesome River Band and a regular performer at Harkey’s Asheville event, expressed his confidence. “Everyone has to use common sense to take care of themselves and do what feels comfortable. We all want to get back to normal in the music world, and Bluegrass First Class will be one of the first big steps. (It’s) a great festival at a great venue, and I really think it will be managed really well.”

Russell Moore of IIIrd Tyme Out shared, “People are ready to get back out and see live music. Bluegrass First Class! The name says it all from the viewpoint of the musicians and the fans. The location is picturesque with everything indoors. You can walk from your room, to the restaurant, to the music hall. A great place for a festival! We’re the only band to perform at every one. This will be our 26th performance there. That’s a neat thing to have associated with your band. If everybody is sensible, everyone will be better protected and safe.”

Carolina Blue’s Bobby Powell added, “Each time we perform at Bluegrass First Class, it’s like a homecoming for us. Milton got us on the main stage for a couple of songs when our band was very young, and the crowd liked what we did. Milton booked us the following year for a main stage performance, and we’ve been there almost every year since. This is a premier winter festival in the beautiful mountains of Asheville, NC, that always features a stellar lineup, and we are so proud to be a small part of it. We’ve all basically been shut down for the past year due to this virus, and we’re looking to start 2021 with a bang at Bluegrass First Class! Y’all come be with us!”

The 26th Annual Bluegrass First Class is slated for February 19-20, 2021. Bands appearing on Friday include Danny Paisley and Southern Grass, The Caleb Daughtery Band, Russell Moore & IIIrd Tyme Out, and Rhonda Vincent & the Rage.

Saturday’s show features Carolina Blue, Lonesome River Band, Doyle Lawson & Quicksilver, and Balsam Range.

The 500 reserved seats tickets went on sale October 15. Tickets, $59 per day, are available at or by phone at 828-275-8650.

For Hotel Reservations, contact Crowne Plaza directly, 828-285-2603, ask for in-house reservations. Alternate hotels are available upon request. For additional information, contact Milton Harkey at 828-275-8650.

This is an opportunity for us all to work together, assemble correctly by observing all guidelines, respect one another, and keep everyone (the attendees, artists, staff, and production crew) safe. Don’t miss your chance to be a part of the 26th Annual Bluegrass First Class!” he concluded.

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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.