Sister Sadie: A Groundbreaking Band
Sister Sadie, a five-member super band composed of premier performers from across the bluegrass spectrum, first came together as what looked like something of a lark for a “one-off” show at the Station Inn in Nashville.
The Station Inn’s history dates back to the mid-’70s, when it was a coffee house. Over the years, it moved and then moved again as it morphed into a bar featuring big-name bluegrass acts. It’s now the premier bluegrass location in Nashville.
There, Sister Sadie presented an impromptu performance put together by five busy musicians who had full musical lives of their own. The audience loved what they did, but, more important, so did the members of the band. They decided, despite their already busy schedules, to seek performance opportunities when they could fit them in.
The band was featured in a showcase at the International Bluegrass Music Association (IBMA) World of Bluegrass in Raleigh, North Carolina, in 2014. Their formation created quite a stir, but they were likely not expecting the high impact they would have at their first IBMA appearance.
My wife and I saw them three times last summer. They were on the stage at Musicians Against Childhood Cancer in Columbus, Ohio, in July. Their appearance was scheduled in the early afternoon, when few fans come out at this festival. The next time we saw them was at the Podunk Bluegrass Festival in Hebron, Connecticut, in early August. They arrived tired and somewhat ill, with lead singer Dale Ann Bradley recovering from a return flight after a tour in Europe. Then came their triumphant show at the Delaware Valley Bluegrass Festival in Salem, New Jersey, on the Sunday of Labor Day weekend.
Delaware Valley is one of oldest bluegrass festivals in the country, now in its 44th year. It was founded by Bill Monroe and Ralph Stanley in 1972. Its list of performers gives a good picture of the quality that has been represented there. Now the property of the Brandywine Friends of Old-Time Music, the festival is governed by a statement of purpose that features a commitment to traditional music while still recognizing that old-time and bluegrass continue to develop.
Sister Sadie was chosen as the festival’s closing act. There wasn’t an empty seat under the pavilion, in the hot Sunday afternoon sun, as the band took the stage following Doyle Lawson & Quicksilver. Very few people in the audience had seen the band, which was months away from releasing its first recording. But Sister Sadie hit the stage hard with commitment and energy. By midway through the set, the audience was cheering and there were tears in the eyes of many. They received a standing ovation and delivered three encores. By the time they left, Sister Sadie had been booked to return to Delaware Valley for the 2016 festival.
Dale Ann Bradley
Bradley is the five-time IBMA Female Vocalist of the Year. Her performances have always been characterized by a purity of voice and purpose. She performed at the famed Renfro Valley Barn Dance in eastern Kentucky as well as with the the New Coon Creek Girls, the Eastern Kentucky offspring of the famous Coon Creek Girls who performed in the 1930s. Since 1997, she has performed with her own band as well as solo and in various duos.
Bradley’s latest album Pocket Full of Keys (Pinecastle Records) was nominated for a Grammy Award.
Vince Gill once said, “Sometimes great country fiddlers aren’t great bluegrass fiddlers, and vice versa, but [Deanie Richardson] encompasses those styles. She knows the difference and plays the difference.”
Watching Richardson play the fiddle provides indications why this is true. It’s hard to believe any fiddle player has ever listened harder, concentrated more, or contributed better to an ensemble’s sound. Bradley commented that no one locks onto the song – the singer and the words – better than Richardson.
“Deanie doesn’t have a plan,” Bradley says. “She’s always in the moment.”
Richardson says she likes to listen to the words of a song, finding the right phrase to express a verbal image musically. She toured with Patty Loveless for 17 years, often tours with the Chieftains, and last year performed with Bob Seger on his world tour. Somehow, she also finds time to teach.
Adair first begin singing at three years old and toured with the Adair Family Band as a teenager. According to an article in Bluegrass Today, she made her first big splash after winning the 1996 Pizza Hut Bluegrass Showdown when she was 16 years old. Soon after, she signed a recording contract with Sugar Hill Records, and she released her first album a year later. She toured with the Tina Adair Band before she decided to return to college for graduate school.
Adair currently serves as director of academic advising at Belmont University in Nashville, where she has worked for 13 years.
Besides Adair’s virtuoso mandolin playing and fine voice, she also brings a lively sense of humor to the band.
“I am excited to be working on a project with all my sisters from Sister Sadie and can’t wait for our fans to be able to get it,” she says. “We are almost done with the recording and I feel we have something on there for everyone. I can’t think of four other women I enjoy making music with more — on and off stage — than Dale Ann, Beth, Gena and Deanie.”
Hailing from Minnesota, Lawrence also played bass in her family’s band, the Lawrence Family, as a child. She attended the University of Wisconsin at Parkside before moving to Nashville, where she has established herself as one of the finest go-to traveling bass players available. She has played with the Mark Newton Band and Alicia Nugent, and she is one of the Daughters of Bluegrass. She is frequently seen on the road with a variety of bands, including Larry Cordle & Lonesome Standard Time and The Becky Buller Band.
Lawrence brings her strong bass playing and singing to Sister Sadie, adding significantly to their versatility. When not making music, she works as a masseuse.
Gena Britt was one of the original Daughters of Bluegrass. Her earliest experience with music was as a clogger, but she soon became fascinated with the banjo. On that instrument, her reputation is as a strong and innovative picker.
Britt has released one solo album, called Doing All I Can, and has participated in three IBMA-award-winning projects. She lives in eastern North Carolina with her two young daughters, and has been working in the banking business for a number of years. Currently, she is featured banjo player with Alan Bibey’s Grasstowne, as well as with Sister Sadie, with whom she also sings.
Sister Sadie is an extraordinary band composed of five well-known and lauded musicians. They all have busy schedules encompassing other touring bands, session work, teaching, and careers unrelated to music. They have just completed their first recording, produced by Tim Austin, which will be released on Pinecastle Records early in 2016.
They have a relatively light touring schedule so far, for 2016, with performances at this winter’s Joe Val festival in Boston, the Hollywood Bluegrass Festival in Maryland, the Delaware Valley Bluegrass Festival in New Jersey, and the Bloomin’ Bluegrass Festival in Texas. Hopefully their new recording will increase their already notable visibility. Of course, they’ll come up against the tendency for bluegrass promoters to book only one band per festival with female performers. One can only hope that bringing bands like Sister Sadie to prominence will reduce this unacceptable limitation.