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With a college background in music theory, Sandy went about taking her four kids and turning them into a full-fledged bonafide bluegrass band – not a small feat with a six-year-old, a nine-year-old, a 10-year-old, and a teenager. Jere recalls just how it all came together for this family band that already holds a nomination for Emerging Artist of the Year from the International Bluegrass Music Association.

“This was the genius of my wife, because she knew music. We tried to listen to bluegrass exclusively, and it is predominantly grown men who play it. They structure their harmonies a certain way, their instrumentation is very aggressive, and so we wondered how can we capture that sound when half the band is female and the majority of the band are minors. So we tried to structure the harmonies like classic bluegrass, and one of the things we told the girls was, ‘if you’re gonna play, you gotta play like men’. That’s not meant to be a pejorative comment, but there is a definite difference in the aggression that comes out when men are playing as opposed to women.”

“Women’s playing style,” he explains, “they’re gonna be a little more reluctant to bear down on it and just punish that thing, so I told them, ‘Just punish that thing, tear it up, scratch it up, cause you want to play like Bill Monroe.’ So that was kind of a philosophy and we wanted to have our band have the qualities that if people weren’t seeing us they would think something else was going on. So sandy was able to take the kids and blend things to the point where the overall sound was very mature.”

The Cherryholmes’ first regular gig, playing at a hotdog stand during apple-picking season dressed as hillbillies, may not have been glamorous, but it definitely whet their appetite for performing and honed their skills as a performing band to be reckoned with. Already exposed to the charm of Celtic music from Jere’s competitions at various Highland Games, the kids were soon incorporating Irish stepdancing into their routine to draw people to the stand as well. Soon they were receiving offers to play festivals around the area and elected to hit the road in a van on weekends to get to shows. As their talent grew, so did their commitment, as evidenced by their willingness to brave the elements just to get to play.

“We started with a van with everything piled on top and inside,” recalls Sandy, “and we would pitch a tent and Jere and I would sleep outside because there wasn’t enough room for all of us inside the tent. We would have to dress outside, too, so it got weird sometimes, people coming up and asking what you were doing while you were getting ready for a show. One time it rained so hard the tent was full of 6 inches of water, and we had to spend the night at a single wide not too far from the festival. We had one time when there was ice about an inch thick on the top of the tent. And we slept outside with the ice. So our next move was, we bought a 26 ft-travel trailer and traveled in that. Jere was still working full time then.”

In a leap of faith, Jere left his carpenter job with the L.A. school system, and the family moved into the mountains of Arizona to some property they owned, where they lived between festivals with no electricity or plumbing. A tiny apartment a friend owned in L.A. became their home when in California, with all four kids bunking on army cots while mom and dad slept in the trailer. Oldest daughter and chief Cherryholmes songwriter Cia recalls how they made the decision to pursue the road life full time and leave a regular house behind.

“I think we took it in stages. We were all enjoying what we were doing because we loved music and loved doing it together. Plus we did live in a normal house until I was 15, so we had all that time beforehand. We were home schooled, but we would do our school functions and go to church, but basically we were homebodies.”

They were able to buy a 1960 GM 4104 in 2002, and the vintage bus has become their traveling home 300 days out of the year as they bring their unique brand of hard-driving bluegrass to fans across the country. Last year, they were asked to host their own bluegrass festival at Hoofer’s Gospel Barn in LaGrange, GA. Called The Best in Tradition with Cherryholmes, it features traditional acts such as Paul Williams and the Victory Trio, JD Crowe and the New South, LeRoy Troy, Jesse McReynolds, and others, and is a highlight of the group’s busy schedule each year.

When the Skaggs Family Records label got wind of this talented group, they quickly approached them and signed them to a deal, and their new album, titled “Cherryholmes,” debuted September 27. They were thrilled to be part of Ricky Skaggs’ label, being longtime fans of the artist himself.

“We’ve always been fans of his because he has a tremendous blend of music and energy and our music, if I can say anything about it, it has energy,” explains Jere. “From the time we first met with them we felt like this was a good marriage. It looked like their ideals, their way of doing things and their philosophy would fit right in with what we do, so after some meetings we signed with them and got started on our project.”

Their blend of high-powered instrumentals and gorgeous harmonies on originals, as well as some traditional standards and covers like the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band’s Workin’ Man, make up this inspired collection by what appears to be the next generation of bluegrass greats. And the Cherryholmes hope to bring this genre of music to a whole new group of listeners with their fresh interpretation of a music steeped in tradition and history. / Issue 58 - September 2018
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