More from opening day at Christmas in the Smokies

Following last year’s shutdown due to the global pandemic, Lorraine Jordan was happy to return for the 10th year of her Christmas in the Smokies Bluegrass Festival.

Lorraine’s 91-year-old, motorcycle-riding dad, Royce Jordan, co-MCed Wednesday night’s festivities with Highway 40 Bluegrass’s radio host, Doug Whitley.

“Welcome, bluegrass lovers,” began Royce. “It’s been a tough year, a tough week, and a tough day.”

It was obvious the gathering crowd was eager for a return to normalcy. Following the Pledge of Allegiance, the audience joined in with the singing of our National Anthem.

As host band, Lorraine Jordan & Carolina Road kicked off the four days of music with a rousing rendition of Hancock County, TN.

“That’s where we are, in Tennessee, and we’re going to try and have a bluegrass festival,” the band leader and festival organizer enthusiastically called out mid-song.

Jordan and her elves have worked diligently to make this year’s event safe and come to fruition. Relocating to a larger venue, the Sevierville Convention Center, the Lady of Tradition outlined ways that she is striving to keep all attendees safe and healthy. Asking for performers to be vaccinated or come with negative COVID tests results, ventilating the room, sanitizing seating area following each night’s performance and offering temperature checks, hand sanitizer, and masks, she is determined to return to live music.

“We’re doing everything we can to make it safe. I didn’t want to skip another year. All seats are about sold out,” Jordan explained during her opening set. “If I had to have it out on the road, I was going to have it.”

She even personalized the lyrics to How Come You Do Me Like You by singing, “Show me a bluegrass festival I can’t have,” and band mate, Randy Graham, followed suit with his solo on Blue Moon of Kentucky providing his own line, “They wouldn’t keep me from having a bluegrass festival.”

At the close of their set, Lorraine Jordan and Carolina Road was given a standing ovation.

As the band returned for an encore, Lorraine expressed to the eager crowd, “I’m thankful. I’ve been needing this for a year and a half.”

Emcee Doug Whitley readily agreed. “After missing last year, we’re glad to be back, but there’s been a lot of hurdles to go through.”

Lorraine Jordan then took to the stage to have an open and honest conversation with the audience.

“I’m thankful to the good Lord. I’m a Christian. I said, ‘Lord, please help find a way to have the festival this year.’ COVID was hard. I lost 60 pounds. I prayed about it. We set it up for Sevierville this year, but next year we’re moving to the Gatlinburg Convention Center. They want us! There are four hotels within walking distance and free parking. We’re also changing our date to the weekend before Thanksgiving, November 17-19, to hopefully avoid busy times and bad weather. They will be decorated for Christmas.”

Jordan displayed a seating chart of the new venue and offered attendees to opportunity to reserve their seats for the 2022 November festival.

Next on the program, Mountain Fever recording artists Seth Mulder and Midnight Run, delivered a hard-driving, tight-knit performance of traditional and original tunes. The band performs regularly at Ole Smoky Moonshine Distillery in both Gatlinburg and Pigeon Forge.

Ben Watlington, the band’s guitarist, related, “It’s nice for you to come visit us. We’re usually driving to see you!” Then he launched into an emotional rendition of Chris Stapleton’s Tennessee Whiskey.

Other songs included Mulder’s original, One More Night, and the band’s latest single, Carolina Line, written by Jerry Salley and Glen Duncan. The close harmonies were interspersed with Colton Powers’ hard driving five-string. One powerful instrument that featured the banjoist’s mastery of the instrument was his high-energy version of Scruggs’ Flint Hill Special.

Next up was Massachusetts’ native, Corey Zink, and his band, Zink & Company. Now based out of east Tennessee, the Sound Biscuit recording artists were perhaps one of the most sharply dressed bands of the night with their black suits, white shirts, and red neckties. Their set featured traditional bluegrass and classic country tunes.

Closing out the evening’s entertainment was the musical prowess and comic antics of Little Roy and Lizzy. No stranger to entertainment industry, Little Roy performed almost 60 years with his father and siblings in the first family of bluegrass Gospel, the Lewis Family. You would never guess his age as he bounced around the stage switching from the banjo to the guitar to the autoharp while telling jokes midstream. Lizzy also seamlessly rotated between multiple instruments and tried as best she could to keep her pappy at bay. Newest member, Sally Lea, Rhonda Vincent’s daughter, was a great addition to their performance, providing rhythm guitar, harmonies, and a few solos from her own Gospel project.

Their set concluded with Little Roy’s iconic version of Honey in the Rock, complete with his unique sound effects and red suspender hijinks.

Christmas in Smokies continues through Saturday. Thursday features Larry Sparks along with Williamson Branch, the Dean Osborne Band, Larry Efaw and the Bluegrass Mountaineers, and Jordan’s band. Friday’s line-up consists of the Jesse Alexander Band, the Crowe Brothers, Danny Paisley, Junior Sisk, and Lorraine Jordan and Carolina Road. Saturday’s show includes the Wood Family Tradition, Caroline and Company, Deeper Shade of Blue, and Sideline.

The indoor festival takes place in the Sevierville Convention Center in Sevierville, TN. For tickets, call 919-779-5672.

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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.