Kickoff day at Bluegrass First Class 2023

For the best in bluegrass this weekend, Asheville’s Crowne Pointe Plaza is the place to be. Friday kicked off promoter Milton Harkey’s 28th year of Bluegrass First Class, and it did not disappoint.

Day one of the three-day event featured performances by Sideline, Russell Moore & IIIrd Tyme Out, the Grascals, and the Lonesome River Band.

Sideline brought their usual high energy to the stage. Sadly, it is a countdown to their final performance at the end of April.

“It’s great to be back at Bluegrass First Class 2023,” Russell Moore announced during their afternoon set. “We understand that Milton is feeling under the weather. We wish him a speedy recovery. He said to remind everyone that we are the only band that’s played here every year.”

“I met Milton back in 1984. I had a lot more hair and a lot less belly then,” teased Moore.

IIIrd Tyme Out’s Wayne Benson mentioned that Bill Monroe’s mandolin is now 100 years old, and then performed two Monroe instrumentals as a tribute. Moore continued the tribute by singing the Father of Bluegrass’ The Old Old House.

“Now I know why you’re so calm today,” Moore told Benson.

“Yep, it’s that cute ole banjo picker (that was coming on next),” Benson beamed.

Following IIIrd Tyme Out was the Grascals. Benson’s wife, Kristin, stood on the stage in the same spot her husband had just occupied. 

Closing out the afternoon was the Lonesome River Band. Both LRB’s Sammy Shelor and Grascals’ Kristin Scott Benson are past recipients of the Steve Martin Banjo Prize, and fine pickers even on their worst day. 

Saturday’s show kicks off at 11:15 a.m. with a couple of up and coming young artists’ groups, the Jake Goforth Band, followed by Olivia Jo & the MVPs. A powerful lineup of new and established bands will perform throughout the afternoon and evening: Authentic Unlimited, Rickey Wasson & the New South Tribute Band, Terry Baucom & the Dukes of Drive, and Deeper Shade of Blue. Closing out the evening will be a 90-minute performance by Appalachian Road Show.

“Rickey’s going to blow people off the stage when he sings,” Harkey predicted.

On Sunday morning, the King James Boys will present a bluegrass gospel concert.

Even though not in attendance, Milton Harkey’s presence was very much felt. “This will pass and I’ll work through it,” he said in a phone interview. “If there was ever any doubt about this festival lasting, the ones in charge know it. They’ve been with it since they were born. They’ve got it together. I’ve just signed a contract with the Crowne Plaza Resort for another five years. We have a fantastic rate in Asheville, NC, for motel rooms. They’re the best rates that you can find.”

Bluegrass First Class is held in the Crowne Plaza Resort, 1 Resort Drive, Asheville, North Carolina. For tickets and more information, visit their 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.