Cherryholmes: so long and farewell

Cherryholmes has had quite a run of late. Over the past ten years, we’ve watched them go from a cute family bluegrass band of teen siblings, to a writing, touring and recording powerhouse of serious pickers and singers with their own ideas about how the music should be played.

The group formed in 1999 as a family-bonding exercise after Jere and Sandy Cherryholmes lost their oldest daughter Shelly when she was only 20 years old. Before long they found themselves performing informally around southern California, and by 2003 they had their first guest spot on the Grand Ole Opry.

In January of 2011, after 7 albums, 4 Grammy nominations, an IBMA Entertainer of the Year award, and thousands of miles on the road, they announced that Cherryholmes would disband in the Spring.

Our buddy Tim White spent a few minutes with Jere and Sandy this past Saturday at HoustonFest in Galax, VA, the site of their final performance. Tim had featured the band previously on Song Of The Mountains, the nationally syndicated PBS program he hosts from nearby Marion, and asked Sandy if they had ever anticipated such a run of success when they started up.

“No… we had no plans on having a band. That’s probably the part of our experience that’s different from most family groups. We took these little kids we had, and tried to teach them bluegrass because we thought that they could actually play it. We figured that if they could all learn a chord or two, we could have a family jam.

We just wanted to do something that would bring them closer to us, and help them get over some of the rough spots back then, when they lost their sister. We never dreamed of anything more than that.”

So why bring it all to an end?

Sandy: “We talked about all this a while back, and it was a mutual decision. We are a traditional family. I’m a stay-at-home mom; we are home schoolers. We raised our kids to be family people, and we realized along the way that we were going to have a conflict in values within our own family. As our family grows, we can’t make them do something we felt was not right.

I mean if you have girls that end up getting married at some point, you can’t tell them that they are going to tour with you and their husbands are going to have to stay home, because I would never have done it.

And we also realized that they may have a different vision. They were children when we signed on to this, and now they’re adults. One of them is married, one is getting married in a couple of weeks, and Jere just got the idea that we need to put this on the table for them and ask ‘What do you guys want? We can’t just keep tying you guys up year after year if it’s not what you really want to do.’

He went and talked to them and said ‘I think we need to rethink this,’ and they all ended up agreeing with him. So we set a date.

They’re excited – they get to go off and be on their own. And were excited – we get to be alone for the first time in years and years.”

Tim: How do you feel about it, honestly. How does it make you feel?

Jere: “It’s bittersweet. It’s been totally engulfing for Sandy and I this past 8 years, especially managing a business. I drive the bus, and have put 675,000 miles on it. We had to always be planning a year and a half out, making all the arrangements, and then having the anxiety of knowing that you can’t replace band members. Our sound is our sound, and it can only be played by us. Nobody wants to pay for the Cherryholmes with a whole bunch of other people in the band!

It’s a shocker in a way, that we’re not going to have this to do, but we’re at peace with it. Everybody’s going to be involved in music in some way, shape or form. Even Sandy and I are going to find people to play with us just for fun.”

Tim reminded them that “just for fun” what they said the last time he and Sandy started playing.

Sandy: “Who knows? This could get exciting! There are a lot of artists who were doing the pop stuff back in the ’80s, and now they’re our age and are doing Americana. So we’re going to hunt them out! You never know what we’ll do.”

And what about younger members of the clan?

Sandy: “They all have their own things. Molly’s working on a different kind of music she’s trying to promote. She has some connections back in California she might pursue, and she’s gung ho. She wants to do music.

BJ may be going to work in one of those theaters in Myrtle Beach. They’ve called him and he’s going out there this week. If it works out, he may end up getting a job in a really nice theater.

Cia doesn’t really have any set plans, and Skip is getting married and doing construction, but he may do some bluegrass on the side.”

But all of this could change. Every week when I talk to them they have a different thing they’re doing.”

Tim: Any last thoughts or comments as you bring Cherryholmes to a close?

Jere: “I just want to take time to sincerely thank people. Fans are hard to come by, and we have so many. We actually call them friends – we don’t like to call them fans. They’ve been so supportive… given their love to us. And energy… If there is energy flowing from the audience onto you, it energizes you, and you can put out even more. I’m sure that most of the inspirational performances we’ve ever done were because we had such a great audience.

We do appreciate everyone in the industry and in our fan base that have been such a friend and a support. We are deeply thankful for that.”

Sandy: “I just want to say thank you to everyone who has encouraged the family along the way. And the professionals who have had faith in us and encouraged us – not the least of which Ricky Skaggs, and Skaggs Family Records. He’s been wonderful, wonderful to us.”

Jere: “And Allen Mills!”

Sandy: “Allen Mills is who got us here. He’s the one who got us to Galax the first time. Him and Dempsey back in 2000, 2001… they met us here both years. And he’s the one who planted the seed and said in ’02 that if you decide to leave and come out east, you call me and I’ll help you, and this is one of the places he brought us, in Galax.

Jere: “I know in some kinds of music it’s kind of cutthroat, and people don’t want to see you succeed. In this kind of music, everybody wants everybody to do the best. And so the professionals we met along the way – Rhonda Vincent, James King, Larry Cordle, and people like that – have always been so encouraging. If they have something, they want to share it with you, and then you can take it and do what you do with it. I think that’s a real tribute to this kind of music.”

Tim: What about reunion shows in the future?

Sandy: “We’ve had a lot of requests already. We will have an active web site to keep everyone updated about what we are all doing, and any shows we might do together.”

And so it ends. So long, Cherryholmes. It was great while it lasted.