Cherryholmes, Naples Philharmonic Orchestra share desire to make great music

Bluegrass/Americana pickers Cherryholmes.

Photo by Erick Anderson

Bluegrass/Americana pickers Cherryholmes.

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Artis—Naples

5833 Pelican Bay Boulevard, Naples, FL

— One is a large, tight-knit family of self taught virtuosos. The other is a highly skilled collection of classically trained players.

So when bluegrass/Americana pickers Cherryholmes and the Naples Philharmonic Orchestra come together on Thursday, you figure it would be oil and water, right?

Not so fast. While their styles couldn’t be further from each other, the orchestra and the Cherryholmes family both share a desire to make great music. If they can do it together, all the better.

“Blending the two is really exciting,” says Cia Cherryholmes, the band’s banjo player. “The brass really takes it over. It adds another dimension.”

For the orchestra, playing with a bluegrass band is another just another part of its mercenary-like lifestyle. In a typical month, the orchestra will play several of its own shows, back up an opera, a couple of pops singers and maybe another band. It’s a lightning-paced schedule that leads often to a bare minimum of rehearsals between shows.

“We’ll run through the Cherryholmes music the day before the show,” says Glenn Basham, the orchestra’s concert master. “Usually we don’t even go over it with the act until the day of the show.”

But with a house orchestra used to playing with each other and a myriad guest performers and conductors, that’s really not a problem. And, as Basham points out, the work the orchestra will do with Cherryholmes won’t be as exacting as some of the classical pieces it will tackle over the course of a season.

“Usually with bands like this, they will have hired a really great arranger to write parts for the orchestra,” Basham says. “Then it’s not difficult to read, especially when you are working with very highly skilled professionals.”

Still Basham, as first chair violin, has been boning up on his bluegrass fiddle a bit. He says that it because of the written parts it’s not necessary to be fluent in the musical genre of the guest artist. Heck, it’s almost impossible.

“We’ve played with someone like Maureen McGovern and then worked with jazz musicians,” he says.

A good deal of the collaborative success of the orchestra rests with former pops conductor Erich Kunzel, the renowned conductor who led pops performances in Naples until six years before his death last September. Kunzel was noted for his ability to work with classical artists and then switch seamlessly to jazz or pop.

“The years with Erich Kunzel really helped us show our diversity,” Basham says.

Diversity is the key to Cherryholmes music too. Although typically lumped into the bluegrass genre, the band’s intricate music pulls from a diverse spectrum of influences. You can hear blues, classic R&B and soul as well as the folk, gospel and country that have always gone hand in hand with bluegrass.

“I think we’re a bluegrass band because we have a banjo,” Cia Cherryholmes jokes. “But really we are a little bit of everything. We’re an Americana group really.”

But in a way that’s what bluegrass is, Cia Cherryholmes says. It’s about innovating with acoustic instruments.

The family became tight with Bluegrass legend Jimmy Martin when they were first starting out a decade ago. Cia Cherryholmes says he gave the family some sage advice for making its way through the industry.

“He told us, ‘Play my music, but play it your way,’” she says.

Sounds like good advice for the orchestra for Thursday night.

Connect with Jonathan Foerster at www.naplesnews.com/staff/jonathan_foerster

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