Between the pickers of Sideline, they have hundreds of appearances at the Grand Ole Opry, multiple Grammy nominations, and national acclaim attached to their storied resumes.
At the heart, though, it’s simply a great traditional bluegrass group, showcasing the best of the North Carolina sound.
Banjo player Steve Dilling formed Sideline with bassist Jason Moore and guitarist Skip Cherryholmes. When he wasn’t touring, Dilling would get requests to play more hometown shows in his native Raleigh.
“It all started by accident,” Dilling said. “I always had people around here who would ask me when I was going to play locally. I put a side thing together during the off season to just play some local venues here. That’s where the name comes from. It was just a side project.”
Already, the trio had deep pedigree. Dilling’s two decades with IIIrd Tyme Out solidified him as a top bluegrass picker. The band played the 2012 Savannah Music Festival. Cherryholmes’ family band spent 13 years recording, touring and racking up five Grammy Award nominations. Moore played with James King for six years and with a number of other bluegrass greats, garnering credits on three Grammy Award nominated albums himself.
They added mandolin player Troy Bone, guitarist Bailey Coe and fiddle player Daniel Greeson, all of whom have their own impressive list of accolades, to round out the lineup.
What began as a side project quickly evolved into a full-time band as the players each found themselves on the other side of their main projects. Sideline decided to do a recording and it was that first album, 2013’s “Session 1,” that was the catalyst for forward momentum.
“Then we decided to record something,” Dilling said. “Just to have something to sell the three or four times we played. The CD took off. We all left the other bands we were in and decided, hey we got this thing, why don’t we take it on the road. Our music, I like to refer to it as traditional based. We try to be versatile with it. Every time we play, we try to do something that everybody is going to like, age 10 to age 80. The older folks tend to like the more traditional, the gospel stuff. Younger folks like the more contemporary. We try to do a little bit of everything and hopefully reach everyone in the audience.”
Sideline has released four studio albums since forming and are currently working on a new one. In the beginning, they arranged covers of traditional tunes. But, as their popularity has grown, songwriters began flooding them with new, original compositions. None of the members write for the band. Instead, Dilling brings other people’s original music to the band and they arrange and record their own versions.
“We don’t have any originals in the band,” Dilling said. “No one in the band really writes. Just about everything we do now is by songwriters who have pitched songs to us. We were the first ones to record them. They’re originals, they’re just not written within the band. They were sent to us. We do a lot of that now. Recording was probably 80 percent all new material.
“They pitch us the songs over email, or CD. You just have to listen down and weed through and hope you find that diamond in the rough. It’s a lot different now than when we started. When we started, we were doing cover songs. We weren’t really out there for songwriters to send us stuff. I get songs sent to me on a weekly basis.”
For their live sets, they have a couple of tunes they know they’ll start the set with. From there, it’s a matter of feeling out the room. Each show is different, which helps keep the music fresh for the audience and band. If you saw them the last time they played Randy Wood’s Picking Parlor, the Jan. 12 show will be different.
“We play at Randy Woods about twice a year,” Dilling said. “We always have a good time. Randy is a good friend and has been a big supporter of our band. We’ve enjoyed doing that. Years ago, I played the Savannah Music Festival. That’s one of our goals, to get on that festival. First time I played that it was my introduction to shrimp and grits.” [laughs]