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Cherryholmes

Think the Von Trapps without the lederhosen. The Jackson Five without the dance moves. The Partridges without the painted bus.

Bluegrass sensation Cherryholmes follows a long tradition of real and fictional singing families. But in the case of this singing clan, the members also play a mean fiddle, banjo, mandolin and guitar.

Jere and Sandy Lee Cherryholmes and their four children (ages 14 to 22) make sweet music together as Cherryholmes. Since entering the bluegrass scene three and a half years ago, the family band has racked up an impressive number of awards and supporters. The biggest was their Grammy nomination this year for best bluegrass album.

The group also has been named the International Bluegrass Music Association's entertainer of the year for 2005 and the Society for the Preservation of Bluegrass Music in America's entertaining group of the year for 2004, 2005 and 2006.

Among its admirers are Ricky Skaggs (who signed the band to his label, Skaggs Family Records) and Rhonda Vincent (one of the group's first famous supporters). Last year, Cherryholmes played 21 dates at the Grand Ole Opry.

The family will bring its acclaimed sound to Modesto's State Theatre on Tuesday. Preceding the show will be a complimentary wine tasting for the first 200 guests, provided by Gallo Family Vineyards.

For the band, all the accomplishments and accolades wouldn't even have been possible a mere seven years ago. It was the death of eldest daughter Shelly in 1999 that convinced Jere and Sandy Lee, who had home-schooled their children for years, to add music to the curriculum.

After Shelly's death, from complications resulting from a post-operative stroke years earlier, the Cherryholmeses took a trip to a bluegrass festival to take their minds off their loss.

"About a month after Shelly passed away, on Sunday, we decided to do something out of the ordinary. We played hooky from church that day and everything to get away from people associated with us and Shelly's death," Jere Cherryholmes said. "I heard on a public radio station that there was a bluegrass festival in the Inland Empire. We had such a good time. The music was homey and had a warmth to it. The atmosphere was family-oriented, the people seemed to be very nice. We just enjoyed the experience."

Jere and Sandy Lee, who lived with their children in Los Angeles, had previously been involved in the Celtic music scene. But once they heard bluegrass, they realized it might be a good fit for the family.

Music lessons and practice got added to the children's school day. Jere picked which instrument each child would learn. He said he chose based on each child's natural abilities and talents.

Musical talent, it turned out, seemed to run in their blood. "I think they've just been gifted," he said. "God gives gifts and talents. Depending on how hard you are willing to work, you can make something big out of it."

Jere serves as the band's manager, plays stand-up bass and sings, while Sandy Lee serves as band administrator, plays mandolin and sings harmony.

Cia Leigh started out playing guitar at age 15 and switched to banjo a year later. She also provides vocals. She was named the Society for the Preservation of Bluegrass Music in America's banjo player of the year for 2005 and 2006.

B.J. began playing fiddle at age 11 and sings. He is featured on Rhonda Vincent's new live concert DVD and CD, "Ragin' Live."

Skip began playing mandolin at age 9; a year later, he switched to guitar. He has been featured in an article in Flat-Picking Guitar Magazine.

Molly Kate began playing fiddle at age 6 and sings. She has a IBMA nomination for fiddler of the year for 2004 and SPBGMA nomination for fiddler of the year for 2005. She has performed with Vincent many times and also appears on "Ragin' Live."

The family members also write their own material. In 2001, the band put out its debut album, the self-produced "Still A Little Rough Around The Edges." Two more independent releases followed. Three and a half years ago, the family moved from L.A. to Nashville. Then in 2005, the group released its first Skaggs Family record, simply titled "Cherryholmes."

Today, Cherryholmes is on the road some 300 days a year, performing and traveling. As one of the busiest bands in bluegrass, being a family helps it manage the day-to-day complications of working and playing together, Jere said.

"I think that because of the closeness that you have a certain synergistic energy in our band that doesn't exist in a lot of bands," he said. "As a family, you're able to work better together. In terms of the energy in the music, it's like six atoms bumping around and into each other -- that comes out in the music we play."

Jere said being a family also helps them control their image and sound. The family's strong Christian faith also comes through.

"We're not evangelistic with our faith, but we're also not ashamed of what we believe and we don't want to bring discredit to it," he said. "We made a pact early on; we said if it took compromising our values to succeed, we wouldn't succeed."

The band has completed work on its second Skaggs Family Records release, also simply titled -- "Cherryholmes II" -- for release in May.

As a father, Jere said he sometimes looks out on the stage and even he is amazed by his family.

"I've never been able to leave my father role for very long," he said. "When I sit back and listen, sometimes it will catch me off guard when someone is playing, particularly with Molly because she's so young. You listen and she's playing something way over the head of most fiddle players. You think, 'Whoa, that's amazing. Those are my kids up there.'"


WHAT: Cherryholmes, with free wine tasting for the first 200 guests, compliments of Gallo Family Vineyards

WHEN: 6:30 p.m. wine tasting, 8 p.m. show, Tuesday

WHERE: State Theatre, 1307 J St., Modesto

TICKETS: $25

CALL: 527-4697

ONLINE: www.thestate.org, www.cherryholmesfamilyband.com

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