Since I laid my burden down
In just seven years together, the members of Sister Sadie have risen into the upper echelon of the modern bluegrass scene.
From a Grammy nomination for “Best Bluegrass Album” (for “Sister Sadie II”) to a handful of appearances on the Grand Ole Opry, 2019 was a milestone year for the group. This past September, the band received the International Bluegrass Music Association (IBMA) award for “Vocal Group of the Year” — the first all-female act in the history of the IBMAs to do so.
Initially formed at the legendary Station Inn (Nashville) in 2012 as a one-off showcase of all-star pickers-n-grinners, the sold-out performance transitioned into a full-time gig, one taking over the airwaves and stages across the country and around the world.
Featuring guitarist DaleAnn Bradley (five-time IBMA “Female Vocalist of the Year”), mandolinist Tina Adair, banjoist Gena Britt, fiddler Deanie Richardson and bassist Beth Lawrence, the ensemble is about keeping one foot in musical tradition and one in melodic innovation.
Smoky Mountain News: With Sister Sadie, you didn’t put any expectations on it, but you also didn’t put any limitations on it either.
Tina Adair: Exactly. We certainly didn’t expect anything more than what we were doing [at The Station Inn]. But, we’re happy and proud that we have gotten to people out there that like to hear us. We have so much fun together, and that’s what it’s about — making music, having fun, and loving on the people around you. Life is too short and we need to laugh more, you know?
SMN: What is it about harmony singing that really appeals to you?
TA: I’ve been singing harmony all my life. It’s just something magical that happens. It’s such an emotional experience for me. I’ll always say my voice was my first instrument because I’ve been singing since I was 3. I know that the other girls [in Sister Sadie] are the same way. For us to sit around and work on the [vocal] blend and harmonies, it always feels like sibling harmonies to us when we sing together. And that’s just something that you don’t have with everybody — to find that is pretty magical.
SMN: And I notice such a carefree spirit in the band, where bluegrass as a genre can sometimes come across as rigid and stuffy in its presentation.
TA: That’s true. From the first day that we ever played together seven years ago, it felt like we’re just having fun. We made a pact with each other that when it’s not fun anymore, then we won’t do it. And, essentially, bluegrass music is such a raw and organic form of music anyhow, so we just let it happen naturally [onstage and in the studio].
SMN: Why bluegrass? What is it about that “high, lonesome sound” that speaks to your heart?
TA: I think some of it has been instilled in me, even from the time my mom was expecting me. I believe in that. I mean, she played guitar and sang on the stage while she was carrying me — it’s a part of [my] soul. Bluegrass is where my heart is at.
Want to go?
The Balsam Range Art of Music Festival will take place Dec. 6-7 in the Stuart Auditorium at the Lake Junaluska Conference and Retreat Center. A full schedule of events is as follows:
• Tuesday, Dec. 3: The Darren Nicholson Band (Americana/country) will play at 7:30 p.m. at Frog Level Brewing in Waynesville. Pre-kickoff event. Free and open to the public.
• Wednesday, Dec. 4: Second annual “Bluegrass Boogie” at 7:30 p.m. in The Gem downstairs taproom at Boojum Brewing in Waynesville. Performance by J Rex & His High Mountain Pals, as well as special guests. Sponsored by The Smoky Mountain News. Pre-kickoff event. Free and open to the public.
• Thursday, Dec. 5: To officially kick off the festival, there will a special performance starting at 6 p.m. at the Folkmoot Friendship Center in Waynesville. Members of Balsam Range and special guests. The event will also feature a traditional Southern Appalachian barbeque included in the ticket price. Fresh beer will also be available. Tickets are $25 in advance ($28 at the door) and can be purchased in advance at www.folkmoot.org or by calling 828.452.2997.
• Friday, Dec. 6: Art of Music Festival, Day One. Doors at 6 p.m. Performances by Balsam Range (7 p.m.), Mike Snider, Tim O’Brien, and Balsam Range with studio musicians. Tickets now available.
• Saturday, Dec. 7: Art of Music Festival, Day Two. Doors at 6 p.m. with Whitewater Bluegrass Co. Performances by Sister Sadie (7 p.m.), Darrell Scott, and the Atlanta Pops Orchestra with John Driskell Hopkins (of Zac Brown Band) and Balsam Range. Tickets now available.
For more information and/or to purchase tickets to the Art of Music Festival, visit www.balsamrangeartofmusicfestival.com.