More from Bluegrass First Class 2020

Rhonda Vincent with Caroline Williamson and her new mandolin at Bluegrass First Class – photo by Sandy Hatley

Bluegrass First Class was a weekend filled with great music, unique presentations, and numerous celebrations. Not only was promoter Milton Harkey honored for his 40 years in the music industry, and First Class Bluegrass’ silver anniversary, but there was plethora of other special moments as well.

Michael Cleveland & Flamekeeper kicked off their Friday afternoon set with a five minute barn burner rendition of Sally Goodin. Cleveland oozed energy, enthusiasm, and gratitude for his recent Grammy Best Bluegrass Album win for his Tall Fiddler project.

“What a way to start the year!” He announced to the packed Expo Center at the Crowne Point Plaza in Asheville. “I’m so honored to have received a Grammy. I still can’t believe it!”

The fiddle wizard went on to praise his producer, Jeff White, and the powerhouse ensemble of super pickers  that appeared on his award winning album.

In addition to Harkey’s presentation from North Carolina’s Lieutenant Governor for his contributions to the bluegrass community, there were several other memorable moments. Caroline Williamson, youngest of the Williamson Branch clan, was presented an Eastman mandolin on stage by Rhonda Vincent. The US-affiliated Ponoma, CA instrument company donated an F-style model to the young performer.

Vincent is all about promoting today’s youth in music. During her Friday evening set, she invited 13 year old, Jake Goforth, to the stage. The NC guitarist sang and picked his rendition of Sunny Side of the Mountain. A Facebook video on his performance has been viewed almost 50,000 times!

Harkey also presented Doyle Lawson, known for his Nudie suits and flashy Caboots footwear, with a pair of sparkly loafers. Lawson, being the good sport that he is, removed his boots and modeled the new footwear much to the pleasure of his assembled fans.

It was also great to have dobro master, Phil Ledbetter, join his longtime friend, Steve Gulley, on stage and perform an entire set with New Pinnacle. Gulley and Ledbetter had been friends since their youth. Debbie Gulley, Steve’s wife, also joined the band on stage for a couple of numbers. The couple performed for years on the Renfro Valley Barn Dance.

Newcomer, Caleb Daughtery from IN, made quite an impression on the crowd and the promoter. Harkey has already signed the young entertainer for next year’s Asheville show.

With other great performances by top notch groups such as Appalachian Road Show, Lonesome River Band, and of course, Ricky Skaggs and Kentucky Thunder, the weekend proved to match its name. It was Bluegrass First Class!

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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.