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Concert Review: Cherryholmes at the Birchmere, 9/2/10



I’m going to be honest. Last night, I really didn’t want to go to the concert. Cherryholmes has been one of my favorite bands for several years, but I was tired and grumpy. All that changed once the six-person family band ripped into their opening song, “The Harder I Fall” (from newest album Cherryholmes IV: Common Threads). 25 songs and nearly two hours later, my prior crankiness had vanished thanks to the family’s top-notch playing, sweet harmonies, and shared love of sequins.

The second generation Cherryholmeses—Cia, Skip, BJ, and Molly—are the heart of the group. They’re such skilled, poised musicians that sometimes it’s easy to forget how young they really are. They range in age from 17 to 26, but amongst them, they have decades of experience. Everybody plays, everybody sings, everybody writes, everybody clogs, and it’s all performed with the same boundless energy that’s wowed festival crowds worldwide (check out a portion of their 2009 Bonnaroo performance below).

The set was largely composed of bluegrass songs from their past four albums with a brief gypsy jazz/swing interlude that included the Cia-penned “Just You” and a cover of Django Reinhardt’s “Minor Swing.” (When did this become a favorite of bluegrassers? Andy Leftwich of Ricky Skaggs’ Kentucky Thunder has a version on a solo album, and Mark O’Connor, Chris Thile, Frank Vignola, Bryan Sutton, Byron House, and Jon Burr recorded a version for their Jam Session. Wherever this trend came from, I approve wholeheartedly.) Cherryholmes closed their set with “Dave’s Old Hat Band,” which featured all band members except Jere clogging on the boards laid upon the Birchmere’s stage.

Matriarch Sandy (who her husband Jere described as the “literal producer of the band”) led the group through a few gospel songs, including a stunning a cappella version of “Mary.” On the opposite end of the song spectrum, Jere sang “Red Satin Dress,” a murder ballad he wrote that can be found on the family’s self-titled 2005 album (years of traveling the country with one’s family in a 45-foot bus must inspire some truly wonderful murder ballads). Though the Birchmere was only about two-thirds full (shame on you, DC), those in attendance were extremely enthusiastic.

The encore, composed of audience requests, started out somberly with convict’s tale “Black and White” and the extremely moving “This Is My Son,” but ended with a raucous take on “Orange Blossom Special.” Toward the end of the show, Skip Cherryholmes noted that this was the first time the band had played the Birchmere since 2005. They better not wait that long next time.

1. The Harder I Fall
2. Goodbye
3. Tattoo of a Smudge
4. Idle Minds
5. Changed in a Moment
6. How Far Will You Go
7. I Am Your Conscience
8. Weaver of Lies
9. I Can Only Love You So Much
10.  Devil in Disguise
11.  Mary
12.  Heat of the Morning
13.  Brand New Heartache
14.  Mansker’s Spree/O’Coughlin’s Reel
15.  Live It
16.  When It’s Not With Me Everyday
17.  Red Satin Dress
18.  Swiss Yodel
19.  Just You
20.  Minor Swing
21.  The Sailing Man
22.  Dave’s Old Hat Band

1. Black and White
2. This is My Son
3. Orange Blossom Special

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