Jere Cherryholmes introduced his family band well into their first set in the opening concert of the 2008-2009 SOPAA Performing Arts Series on Thursday, September 18th. He said he was proud of his family and what they had accomplished. No kidding. In less than a decade this family has recorded several albums and garnered two Grammy nominations. And still his talented children are only in their late teens and early twenties.
Cherryholmes burst onto the main stage of the Vern Riffe Center for the Arts on the campus of Shawnee State University in Portsmouth, Ohio with a breath-taking energy that was exhilarating and exhausting at the same time. This six member unit moved about the stage each performing as part of the group or individually but in constant motion. Fingers flew over banjos, mandolins, guitars and fiddles at such a rate that it seemed impossible to comprehend. This is one bluegrass group that rocks.
Each member of this family trades off as lead singer as they make their way through both original and traditional bluegrass selections. Each of the performers, including the parents, contributed to the overall sound and stature of this self-named group. Even within a family as talented as this there are standouts.
Molly Kate, the youngest of the family, is an amazing maestro of the fiddle with an aggressive style of play that challenges as well as delights. She moves with a power and grace that belays her youth and experience. Her sister Cia provided the emotional high of the evening with the performance of her original song, “This is My Son.” The song tells the story of a mother sending her son to war and how she now knows what God felt giving of his own son to a greater cause. This is powerful stuff in concept and devastating in the performance. It is amazing such a complex and emotional song comes from such a young woman and delivered with such raw emotion.
Brothers Skip and BJ strode the stage with commanding presences, oozing the swagger and confidence of youth but delivering with the talent necessary to pull it all off with style. Mama Sandy thrilled the audience with her yodeling ability, once a staple of bluegrass acts but which in recent years seeming to be disappearing. She also set the tone for the family all but dancing as she pounded her mandolin into submission. At the center is Papa Jere behind his massive upright bass. Solid and immovable with his instrument as his family danced around him.
The audience responded with enthusiasm as the evening progressed, finally clamoring for their return and an encore which consisted of their interpretation of the traditional “Orange Blossom Special.”
Their sound pays homage to the traditional roots of their music but blasts through with a contemporary sound designed to introduce this style of music to a new generation in a still new century. Cherryholmes’ performance certainly sets the standard with high expectations for the rest of the season.
An excellent start to the season ahead.