According to the International Bluegrass Music Association, a new star is on its way. For the first time in its history, the organization’s annual awards show October 27th will include a nominee for emerging artist that is also competing for entertainer of the year.

The band, Cherryholmes, is named after its members – Jere and Sandy Lee Cherryholmes and the couple’s four kids, B.J., Skip, Molly Kate and Cia Leigh, the latter nominated for female vocalist. Their first album for Skaggs Family Records recently debuted at No. 3 on SoundScan’s bluegrass album chart.

Mom and dad play mandolin and standup bass, respectively. Cia was an accomplished flat-picker at age 15, but has been playing banjo for the past six years. B.J. handles fiddle and Skip is the guitarist. Molly Kate began playing fiddle at age 6. Last year, when she was 11, the IBMA nominated her for fiddler of the year.

Jere, a Navy Seal veteran, and Sandy Lee, a former accounting assistant, manage and book the band with Sandy Lee taking on the extra responsibility of home schooling. They take turns driving the bus to as many as 300 shows a year.

“I don’t have any booking background,” Sandy Lee told Pollstar, but her accounting experience helps. “I was the one at home and it just grew into something rather large. We’ve got quite a bit going on now.”

The Cherryholmes family plays between three and five times a week during the summer, and Sandy Lee has to schedule her booking responsibilities around being a schoolmarm.

“During the day, my daughter fields a lot of the calls, takes a lot of the messages, and then I’ll try to take breaks and get them into a priority order. Sometimes, when I’m running around town or running the kids around, I’ll just collect messages and sit down all at once – start making calls as soon as I can or in the evenings.”

The band has a business address in Ridge Top, Tenn., and a permanent legal address in Taylor, Ariz., but the members don’t have a home.

“We’re so used to living in the bus that we consider it our place to stay,” Sandy Lee said. “In fact, a lot of times, a venue will want to negotiate an offer with hotel rooms and we tell them we don’t need hotel rooms; we’re home.”

There’s no fax machine or Internet connection on the moving bus, so Sandy Lee mails out the contracts with a return envelope. She’ll pick up the contracts when in Ridge Top, or have friends pick them up.

“I spend a lot of time studying on the Streets & Maps program,” she said. “Whenever we go to a show, we pick up different artists’ personal schedules so I can find out where the concert halls are and where the best places to play are.”


Obviously, booking agencies have approached Sandy Lee to take the work off her hands and, oh, 10 to 20 percent off the gross. But even though it’s a lot of work, she frets she’ll wind up sitting on her hands after the kids graduate in a few years.

“We enjoy having a relationship with the people. We like not having a middleman and we can get right with the promoter, understand where he’s coming from, work directly with him, know what’s been said and what’s been agreed upon.”

Cherryholmes wants all-ages shows; concerts for 21-and-over means the four kids need permits.

“It doesn’t come up often at all, but we know what our schedule is, we know why it is and, if there’s a mistake, I’m the one to blame.

“We don’t do backyard parties. We haven’t even done more than one or two corporate events because we like to play for people within the genre. We don’t do a lot of private events unless it’s a favor for another artist. After that, there’s pay. It costs a lot to run the bus and we have so much work now that to go somewhere to make $900 just doesn’t make any sense.”

For two years now, the band has hosted its own annual festival at Hoofer’s Gospel Barn in La Grange, Ga. In 2002, Cherryholmes was a guest of James King at a festival organized by venue owner Rick Torrance. The band’s significant draw was a factor when he asked them to host in the future. Sandy Lee tried to book it from the road but it was impossible.

“What we do is, we go around the country looking at bands and looking at talent.”

The band arrives at the festival for a pot luck dinner and hosts a night of jamming. The festival ends with the kids hosting a youth workshop and a finale that evening. This year’s event took place October 13-15.

Sandy Lee’s booking skills have attracted potential clients. She believes her success has more to do with having a marketable product.

“Kind of like Rhonda Vincent. She’s got a phenomenal schedule, she has a great product and everybody loves her. She would be easy to go out and hustle for. A lot of bands are looking for that and are just not seeing it. It’s just looking for what it takes to get people screaming for you to come back. That’s the secret to a successful schedule.”