True Grass breaks out at Bluegrass Christmas in the Smokies ’21

Lorraine Jordan, Danny Paisley, and Junior Sisk at Bluegrass Christmas in the Smokies – photo by Gary Hatley

The tenth annual Bluegrass Christmas in the Smokies is now in the books, and plans are already underway for next year’s event in a new venue at a new time. Promoter Lorraine Jordan outlined the 2022 version of the festival this weekend. The Gatlinburg Convention Center will be the new location for the holiday-themed music show, with November 17-19, the weekend before Thanksgiving, as new dates for the three-day festival. Four guitars were given away in a drawing from those who purchased advance tickets for next year’s show.

This year Christmas in the Smokies was held in the Sevierville Convention Center and despite numerous obstacles (COVID, sickness, etc.) the limited seating event was sold-out.

The four-day traditional music fest featured top-notch entertainment from Larry Sparks to Sideline, and lots of other bands in between with Jordan and Carolina Road serving as host band and performing three of the four days.

One of the highlights of their performances was their True Grass set on Friday afternoon. With Jordan orchestrating the program, Danny Paisley and Junior Sisk joined her for songs separately and together. Paisley and Jordan joined forces to sing Leaving Detroit, then Sisk and Jordan performed Wild Mountain Honey. Finally, the trio did Jordan’s hit song, Why Can’t Bluegrass Be True Grass Again? That tune remained number one on the charts for 15 months.

Next, Jordan, in a move reminiscent of Carlton Haney’s bluegrass orchestra days, launched into a series of instrumentals featuring specific instruments and calling on entertainers from the weekend festival. First, it was the mandolins with Monroe’s Bluegrass Breakdown. Joining Jordan were other mandolinists, Ryan Paisley, Jesse Alexander, and Larry Efaw. 

“The mandolin is my favorite instrument because Bill Monroe played it,” the promoter and bandleader confessed.

Next it was the fiddles turn. Carolina Road’s Matt Hooper and Efaw’s Adam Burrows twinned on Bob Wills’ Faded Love. 

Finally, banjos were spotlighted with a focus on the different styles of banjo-picking. First, 15 year-old Curtis Coleman clawhammered and sang the Stanley tune, Rocky Island. Billy Lee Cox then demonstrated the Reno style of the five-string with I Know You’re Married, But I Love You Still. Then Cox and Jordan’s banjoist, Ben Greene, twinned on Roanoke.

Her set also featured some budding bluegrass performers. The Murphy kids – JoJo (13), Landon (10), and Jacob (8) – entertained the audience with JoJo first playing mandolin on Jerusalem Ridge, and then her brothers joined in. JoJo and Landon both fiddled a Christmas tune.

Next, Jordan’s 91 year-old dad, Royce, accompanied his daughter on stage for a tribute to our armed forces. “This is my favorite part of the program,” the elder Jordan relayed, “honoring our military, both active and retired.”

As Greene picked each branch of service’s official song on the banjo, veterans came forward and were presented a small American flag. As an added treat, each service person also received United We Stand, a compilation patriotic CD, compliments of Pinecastle Records, Lorraine’s record label.

Before Carolina Road left the stage, lead singer and guitarist, Allen Dyer, had great news to share with all those in attendance.

“I learned just about 10 minutes before I came on stage… I have a new grandson. With COVID restrictions, we couldn’t be there, but everyone is OK.”

It made the singer a grandpa three times over.

Also featured on Friday were the Crowe Brothers. No stranger to the bluegrass community, Don Rigsby accompanied the singing siblings on mandolin. When they closed out the evening, Hooper also joined in on fiddle. He and Rigsby had been band-mates in a former life.

Saturday’s show included Wood Family Tradition, three generations of banjoist, A L Wood’s family. Following his grandson, Carson Aldridge, singing Molly and Tenbrooks, Mike Wood shared, “It’s a wonderful thing to sing with your family.”

Also performing was 19-year-old, Caroline Owens from Denton, NC. Lorraine said of her voice, “Close your eyes and her voice takes you back to Dolly Parton. She has a voice like you won’t believe!”

During their last set, Deeper Shade of Blue closed with a tribute to Jason Moore, singing How Great Thou Art.

Other Saturday entertainers included the Jesse Alexander Band, Larry Efaw and the Bluegrass Mountaineers, and Sideline.

After a few tunes, Sideline’s Steve Dilling spoke. “I need to address the elephant in the room; we lost my brother, Jason Moore, a couple weeks ago.”

Fighting emotions, Dilling stepped back from the microphone and Sideline fiddler, Jamie Harper, took over. He assured everyone, “As long as there is a Sideline, Jason Moore will always be with us.”

Moore, the band’s bass player, suffered a fatal heart attack on November 21. Lonesome River Band’s bassist, Kameron Keller, filled the vacancy this weekend.

Dilling praised his assistance. “He’s been a friend of ours for many years. He’s a great musician and came to help us out.”

Then he teased, “He just got the set list yesterday. We said, ‘Take your time. You’ve got 24 hours.'”

Jacob Greer, who was celebrating his 23 birthday, dedicated the song, I Believe, to the memory of his fallen band mate.

Dilling keeping it upbeat, invited the audience to join in to sing Greer happy birthday. 

“23 years old,” the veteran banjoist said shaking his head. “I’ve got on socks that older than that. These socks used to belong to Russell Moore.”

Dilling also shared that Greer will be departing the band at the end of the year to get off the road and spend more time with his May bride, Ally Hinson Greer.

At the festival drew near the end, Jordan joined Dilling on stage. Expressions of love, gratitude, and support were relayed to each other and to all the attendees, musicians, sound engineers, workers, and volunteers that made the four-day event a success. 

“It takes a village to put on this kind of event. See you next year, November 17-19, in a new venue at a new time,” Jordan 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.