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Bluegrass Group Sister Sadie Forges Ahead Following Personnel Changes With New Album ‘No Fear’: ‘We Decided to Keep Going Forward’

Mr. Nimbus | 01/31/2024

In 2020, bluegrass group Sister Sadie made history by becoming the first all-female group to win the International Bluegrass Music Association (IBMA)’s coveted top honor: entertainer of the year. That same year, the group earned vocal group of the year, while Sister Sadie member Deanie Richardson became the second woman in 30 years to win the IBMA’s fiddle player of the year. The group originally formed in December 2012, with a lineup that included Gena Britt, Deanie Richardson, Dale Ann Bradley, Tina Adair and Beth Lawrence. 


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But over the past four years, Sister Sadie has weathered changes both external and internal — from pandemic shutdowns to the exits of group members, including Adair and Bradley. The group’s two remaining founders, Deanie Richardson and Gena Britt, have forged ahead with Sister Sadie — and in the process, are welcoming a new generation to the group’s mission of putting talented women bluegrass players in the spotlight.

Fiddle player Richardson has spent years touring with artists including Patty Loveless and Bob Seger, while banjoist/vocalist Britt’s resume has included time as part groups including New Vintage and The Daughters of Bluegrass. Rounding out Sister Sadie are the newest members Jaelee Roberts (guitar/vocals), Dani Flowers (guitar/vocals) and the group’s youngest member, 19-year-old Maddie Dalton (bass/vocals). Roberts joined in 2020, followed by Flowers in 2022 and in 2023, Dalton. 

“Personnel changes are always hard because everything changes—the energy, the sound,” Richardson tells Billboard via Zoom. “With personnel changes, it’s like, ‘Do we call it or do we try to reinvent this thing?’ We decided to keep going forward.” 

The relational ties with some of the newer members run deep, particularly with Roberts. “I grew up playing in a band [New Tradition] with Jaelee’s dad when I was a teenager,” Richardson says, “and [Gena] grew up playing in a band [Petticoat Junction] with Jaelee’s mom when she was a teenager, and now we are in a band with Jaelee.”

The group’s latest album, No Fear, which came out Jan. 26, marks the group’s first full-fledged project with their new label Mountain Home, where they signed in 2022.

“With all the personnel changes happening, we just felt it was time for a change,” Richardson says of leaving former label Pinecastle Records and joining Mountain Home. “Gena and I went to Mountain Home and just thought it would be a good spot to land. We started making calls, chatting with labels and seeing what family feels right to work with, and this felt right.”

For some of the newer members, crafting the album came with career milestones and unique challenges.

“The funny part is they all went into the studio and recorded, and I had my college finals, so I couldn’t make it for the first round, but in the second round of session I went in and just loved getting to hear all of this music come to life,” Roberts said, while Dalton called the sessions “a whirlwind of an experience and so fun,” noting that making the album marked her first time playing bass in a professional studio setting, just two weeks after joining Sister Sadie.

The album’s 13 tracks span straightforward bluegrass to folk, traditional country and more, anchored by each of the group’s members’ individual musical proclivities.

“It’s a reflection of all of us, because our individual personalities come out in the record,” Britt said. “We just love songs and songwriters. When we are making a record, we start a Dropbox and everyone starts throwing songs we love into that Dropbox and we start picking things out. There’s some electric guitar on this album, some piano and drums and a B-3 organ—some things that are way outside of the Sister Sadie box, but I love where it’s heading.”

Some of those favorited compositions are pulled from the country genre, including Cam’s 2017 single “Diane,’ which flips the script on Dolly Parton’s classic “Jolene.”

“I played in the band at the Opry and I was on one night and Cam walked out and I was playing mandolin. She did that song and I was floored. I thought, ‘It sounds like an old ‘70s pop song.’ I sent it to the girls and they loved it as much as I did. The song wasn’t a huge hit, but we loved it and it has been a crowd favorite.”

Two other songs, “Willow” and “Ode to the Ozarks,” were co-written by country singer-songwriter and Grammy winner Ashley McBryde, who also lends her vocals to “Ode to the Ozarks.” 

“Ashley is one of my best friends,” Flowers says, recalling that the two met in a songwriting session, and that McBryde was a contributor to “Something to Lose,” featured on 2018 album Sister Sadie II, “We love her and she’s always been such a great supporter and came to my first show with Sister Sadie at [Nashville music venue] Station Inn and sang with us on the Opry. She’s a big part of Sister Sadie—she’s Sister Ashley.”

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“When I saw Sister Sadie live for the first time, I was like, ‘Okay, now I’m obsessed,’” McBryde told Billboard via a statement. “I found out through Dani Flowers (we’ve been friends for over a decade), that they were thinking about cutting ‘Willow,’ a song I had written quite a few years ago. Then I found out they were also gonna cut ‘Ode to the Ozarks,’ and I was so tickled. Deanie called and asked if I would come and sing on ‘Ode to the Ozarks,’ and I was blown away. I love the whole record and I’m still obsessed with Sister Sadie.”

“If We Ain’t Drinkin’ Then We’re Fighting” is an older song, written by Richardson and former Sister Sadie member Adair. 

“I was in a marriage that just kind of went south and was not in a good place,” Richardson says. “The only thing we really looked forward to every day was like, ‘What are we drinking tonight? What cocktail are we making?’ and I said to Tina one day, ‘It’s just no fun over here. If we’re not drinking, we’re fighting. And she was like, ‘Oh my god, let’s write that.’ So it was a quick write, and there was some comedic tinge to it. The feel is more Reno and Smiley, just real swingy old-school bluegrass.”

Dalton takes the lead on “Mississippi River Long,” a song Flowers co-wrote when she was 19.

“Maddie joined as we were finishing up the record,” Flowers says. “We knew she was a great bass player, but I didn’t realize how great of a singer she is until we heard her at a festival and knew she needed to sing on this record. I’m so happy this song has new life.”

The group’s accolades are a testament to the skill and determination of its members, especially in a male-dominated genre. Richardson says the group’s all-female lineup hasn’t been a deterrent.

“I am a gay woman in bluegrass music, and I have never ever had an issue,” Richardson says. “I don’t feel like us being women has really hindered us. The only thing I’ve ever noticed is they’re only going to book one female band at a festival. That’s the only really negative downside I’ve ever seen. We’ve got a great career. For me and us, I don’t feel like it’s ever been an issue. I know it has been for lots of people, but we just try to stay positive and give it hell and see what happens.”

Even while earning top awards from the IBMAs, Sister Sadie didn’t have a booking agent or manager and was booking shows and facilitating its own business operations. That’s changed, as they’ve now signed with Madison House for booking, and began working with manager Chris Segal. The Sister Sadie members say they are dedicated to forging ahead, even as they balance roles as musicians with other responsibilities including jobs (Richardson works at a bank and Britt at a glasses retailer), school and family.

“We do as much as we can and we also have jobs and kids,” Richardson said. “We started this thing as a pet project. We were like, ‘Let’s get these amazing women together and play when we can.’ Then that developed into tour dates and records and IBMA Awards, but it was organic and we never really went in 100% on this. So we had this conversation of ‘What if we got managers and agents and the right combo of amazing, talented, strong-ass women and really went at this 100%? What would happen? So that’s where we’re headed.”

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Written by Mr. Nimbus

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