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Surprises continue for Cherryholmes

By John Lupton, November 2005

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Jere retired from his job, the house in L.A. was sold and the family (minus oldest son Tyson, by this time grown and out on his own) moved to a piece of property in Arizona purchased years before with the intent of it being a retirement home (they now spend their "off-road" time in Nashville).

Literally roughing it - no electricity or running water - they continued to work hard on developing the act, gearing up for a life of countless days on the road that is the lot of professional bluegrass musicians. There were no illusions, Jere says.

Making a living meant they would have to expand beyond the southwest, where the festival circuit was relatively sparse and hopefully tap into the more active East Coast festival scene. They were beginning to draw attention on a large scale, though, and he laughs as he recounts a letter that awaited them on returning from an extended jaunt.

"When we got back to Arizona, we got a letter from Chuck Stearman (president of the Society for the Preservation of Bluegrass Music of America, like IBMA a large industry trade group)...saying somehow we made his list of the top five nominees for Entertaining Group of the Year for the Midwest SPBGMA, and he wanted to know who we were. He said, 'How did you make my top five list, and I don't even know who you are?' And then he hired us for a whole bunch of jobs."

As evidenced by their selection as top entertainers by both IBMA and SPBGMA, the core of the Cherryholmes phenomenon is simply the showmanship. When it's suggested that some bands have forgotten that, all the way back to Bill Monroe, bluegrass has always been as much a performance art as a musical one, Cherryholmes emphatically agrees.

"If it was just about playing music, people would be better off just sitting in their car playing the CD because music-wise, it's probably much better quality. But on the're dealing with people who have driven, some of them hundreds of miles, you have people (who've) decided they're gonna spend the day, spend the evening coming down to see you...I feel like, you know, they expect to be entertained, and that's the way we look at it...that's what we're up here for."

"And it's not about me, whether I think I play well or not, and that's a lesson I think most bluegrass musicians would be well advised to learn because sometimes the emphasis ends up being on 'my lead,' 'my vocal,' 'my whatever,' and then all this contact and all the focus is gone from the audience. That's not what it's all about. It's about entertainment...With the varied parts of our program, we're trying to reach different parts of the audience all the time."

In these last, dizzying six years, though, they've not only absorbed with astonishing speed how to interpret and perform classic country and bluegrass material - the new album covers the Louvin Brothers and Hazel Dickens - but have developed an impressive catalog of original material as well, much of it by Cia, though all six have contributed.

Even when he gets an idea himself, like "Girl In The Red Satin Dress" - a prototypical country "hangin' song" - Jere allows as how it usually turns into a team effort.

"When I write a song, I'm not great with words, so I kind of rough it out, do the best I can at making things make sense. Then, what I'll generally do, I'll take the song to my daughter Cia because she has a good way of phrasing things for singing. So, she'll go through there. She'll analyze the lines I've written out. She'll say, 'This one, it feels like if you sing it, it will be a little bit awkward,' so she'll do a few changes to it."

"At the same time that I'm doing that, I've got a general idea of a melody, a general idea of chord progression, but I'll take it to Sandy and tell her 'this is my general idea on how the song should go. See if you can come up with something that makes a little more sense musically'. Once I get to that point, I take it to the three young ones...and so, they'll work on putting some fiddle stuff in there, maybe twisting the chords just a hair, putting an accent in places, a lot of those kinds of 'fine-tuning' things. Then, when we get back together, they basically tell me, 'Here Dad, here's your song, and here's how it goes.'"

He concedes, though, that there really is no logical explanation for achieving this level of success from a standing start in such a short run. Borrowing from "The Music Man", he says there's something of the positive thinking of the roguish Prof. Harold Hill at work, albeit in a more honest vein.

"Sandy said, 'How in the world are we gonna ever convince people that we know how to play bluegrass?,' and I said, 'We're gonna use the 'think system'. We're gonna think bluegrass, and we're gonna saturate ourselves with bluegrass, and we're gonna be able to play it and internalize it.' And that's kind of what we did."

"There is no technical explanation for how we got from Point A to Point B. It's a lotta, lotta, lotta hard work, a lot of dedication and commitment. Maybe even more so that some bands because it's a family. It's a team...when you put the six of us together, there's a certain energy that happens, that I don't think you don't see a lot of times in just the average band or even some of the above average bands."

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