Day 1 at Bluegrass First Class ’24

IIIrd Tyme Out at the 2024 Bluegrass First Class – photo © G. Nicholas Hancock

Bluegrass First Class in Asheville, NC is the place to be this weekend. The three-day festival lives up to its name with a star-studded line-up. Gracing the stage on Friday included Russell Moore & IIIrd Tyme Out, Rickey Wasson & The New South Tribute Band, the Malpass Brothers, and SPGMA’s Female Vocalist of the Year Rhonda Vincent.

Kicking off the festival was Russell Moore & IIIrd Tyme Out, the only band to play the festival all 29 years.

Moore shared a little history. “A little band called Southern Connection came to Asheville in 1984. Milton Harkey’s family helped us survive life until things got better. I haven’t seen him yet, but we will before the day is over. We haven’t got paid yet!”

He introduced IIIrd Tyme Out’s newest member, 21-year-old Colton Baker on bass, who said, “This is his first time to Bluegrass First Class.”

Rickey Wasson’s New South Tribute Band took the stage next. He shared, “JD is the reason a lot of us play today.”

Taylor Malpass kept the laughs going during the Malpass Brothers’ set. Then Rhonda Vincent closed out the afternoon show. A special treat was when she twinned with her fiddler, Adam Haynes. There was humor in their portion as well. 

Rhonda said, “Zack Arnold said I held him when he was a baby.”

“I keep trying to get her to recreate it,” Arnold retorted.

On Rhonda’s evening set, Olivia Jo will make a guest appearance to sing a forth-coming collaboration on her new single, High Sierra.

Milton Harkey stated mid-afternoon, “We’re having a great festival. It’s full already. I don’t know if we’ll have any tickets for sale tomorrow. Isn’t that fantastic? We’ve got the most loyal customers. And everybody’s putting on a show out there. You have to entertain that crowd. Everybody’s happy and that’s a good thing.”

Harkey noted Billy Strings is in town for three days of concerts.

“I sent Billy Strings some tickets and he gave me a t-shirt. He’s going to try and come if he can. Four of his band mates are here.”

Rickey Wasson joined in the conversation. “I spoke with Alison (Krauss) yesterday and she said to make sure to tell you that she really appreciated all the hard work you have done down through the years. She remembers all the shows that she got to come and play, and she treasures that time.”

Saturday’s show kicks off with Bluegrass Ridge’s TV hosts Nu-Blu, followed by rising songstress, Olivia Jo. Then it’s Billy Blue Record’s newly signed Seth Mulder & Midnight Run, SPBGMA’s recently crowned Bluegrass Vocal and Bluegrass Gospel Group of the Year Authentic Unlimited, Billy Blue’s Appalachian Road Show, and Southern Legacy featuring the Tony Rice-style-playing and vocals of Josh Williams, the mandolin picking and high tenor singing of Don Rigsby, and the intricate banjo picking of Ron Block. Sunday morning offers a bluegrass gospel set on the Showcase stage with One Achord from Forest City, NC. 

Bluegrass First Class is held in the Crowne Plaza Resort in Asheville, North Carolina. For tickets and more information visit the BFC web site.

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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.