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For Cherryholmes, it's "black and white"

By John Lupton, July 2007

It has been more than a year and a half since family bluegrass band Cherryholmes turned the bluegrass world upside down by walking off the Ryman stage at the 2005 IBMA Awards with the coveted Entertainer of the Year Award tightly in their collective grasps, leaving no less than Alison Krauss, Del McCoury and Doyle Lawson in their wake.

Shortly thereafter, their self-titled debut release on Skaggs Family was released to sterling reviews and the whirlwind surrounding this close-knit family from Nashville (by way of Los Angeles) began spinning harder and generating even more momentum.

With "Black and White" out in June, Sandy Cherryholmes, the mama of the band, takes a few moments during an all-too-rare night off prior to a festival in North Carolina to reflect on their sudden shift of gear into life in the fast lane, bluegrass-style.

"Because we didn't expect a whole lot from it going in to begin with, everything has been like another exciting piece of the puzzle. Since we won Entertainer of the Year, we had since, of course, been nominated for a Grammy, which came after that - that was on our first Skaggs release - which we were really excited about, and totally unexpected."

"Grammys are things you just hear about growing up, you don't ever expect to hear that you've been nominated for one. And then, right around the time we got the nomination for Entertainer of the Year that year we won, we (were contacted by) Columbia Artists Management of New York...and we since have signed with them, and they have opened up a multitude of doors in the performing arts centers, and that has been phenomenal."

"The response has been great, getting into markets where people are not familiar with bluegrass and introducing our bluegrass, which in our stage shows is a lot of different things - that even if someone is not a bluegrass connoisseur, we have a stage show that appeals to just about anyone who enjoys music of any kind...Of course, there's the new album and just non-stop touring. Seems like the requests to come play (still) abound - it's been an amazing road."

"Several other international trips have made themselves available to us, which is another great thing that we didn't expect."

As matriarch - though at an energetic and effervescent fiftysomething, she doesn't quite seem to fit the image of a stern and reserved dowager - she's handled most of the band's bookings since their 1999 genesis, not to mention written some of their original material, helped draft the arrangements and choreograph their intricate stage show, all the while holding down the mandolin spot.

"We don't ever book into the schedule illness, jet lag or 'tired,' we just try to see (if it's) possible to do it, and if it is, we do it. And we've done that for the last few years. Because we're a family, number one, and number two, we have kids who are becoming young adults, but none of them are married."

"They're all available to travel as much as we can, and we figure there's liable to come a time later when marriages and families may cause us to have to make other types of decisions. But we have everyone, down to Molly (at 15, the youngest), saying if we get a chance to go someplace interesting, let's do it."

A good crowd is a good crowd wherever you go, but Cherryholmes says their reception overseas has been especially gratifying.

"We've always gotten pretty good responses everywhere, but I have to say the difference is when we've gone out of the country, we've felt like The Beatles. I mean, we can just stand for hours being photographed, and the CDs usually disappear within the first 10 or 15 minutes. The response has just been phenomenal, and that's been exciting."

For those just tuning in on one of the more remarkable stories in recent American music history, here's the short version: Jere Cherryholmes (first name pronounced the same as "Jerry"), a carpenter for the Los Angeles school district, and his wife Sandy were rearing their brood of six kids in a rugged neighborhood in southeast L.A. when eldest daughter Shelly died of a lifelong heart ailment in 1999 at 21.

Working through the mourning, they visited a nearby festival on a day outing and experienced bluegrass for the first time in the persons of pioneers Jim and Jesse McReynolds.

Captivated by the music, Jere and Sandy and their 4 youngest kids immersed themselves in learning to play the music and emerged within a couple of years as Cherryholmes (no "The," thank you): Jere (bass), Sandy (mandolin), Cia (then 15, banjo), B.J. (then 11, fiddle), Skip (then 9, guitar) and Molly (then 6, also fiddle).

Gaining competence and confidence, not to mention increasing gigs, they made the decision to grab for the brass ring, moved from L.A. to family property in Arizona and put themselves through a self-imposed "musical boot camp."

By the time they hit the bluegrass circuit in earnest, they were already generating substantial buzz as a band that combined rock-solid instrumental and vocal prowess with a high-energy stage show - and, as that October night at the Ryman confirmed, it wasn't just buzz, they're the real deal. Far from ' standing still, though, they all keep looking for ideas, new and old.

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