In developing a video treatment for the haunting ballad “900 Miles,” members of the Grammy-nominated bluegrass outfit Sister Sadie drew inspiration from an unexpected source.
“Remember that Queen album with just their faces? That shot with the lights straight down on their faces?” Tina Adair asks Billboard, referencing 1974’s Queen II. “We had that idea because it’s such a stripped down song. Deanie [Richardson] arranged it with just the vocals and fiddle on it, and we thought it would be really cool to go somewhere with all black walls and floor and just have the lights shining down from the top and introducing each of us as we’re singing, and then let it bounce back to Deanie as she’s playing her solo parts.”
The result, which premieres on Billboard below, is a coolly understated clip featuring performance footage of Sister Sadie’s Adair, Richardson, Dale Ann Bradley and Gena Britt interspersed with footage of a train barreling down the tracks. Directed by Jon Roncolato, the video was shot at Nashville’s Belmont University on their motion picture department sound stage.
“We never gave him any ideas of throwing a train in there,” Richardson says. “He did it on his own. We loved it and loved the old vintage look he created.”
The new visual is the latest exciting happening in an eventful year for Sister Sadie. Their sophomore album, Sister Sadie II, was nominated earlier this year for a Grammy for best bluegrass album. They made their debut performance on the Grand Ole Opry this spring, and they recently received nominations from the International Bluegrass Music Assn. (IBMA) for vocal group of the year and album of the year for Sister Sadie II, released on Pinecastle Records. Bradley, a five-time IBMA female vocalist of the year winner, is again nominated in that category.
“We are really grateful and honored to be in there with the other nominees,” says Adair. “There are lots of great bluegrass players and singers that never made that list, that don’t get that recognition they deserve. We try to be mindful of that. And we just found out that we’re actually going to be playing on the award show as well, so we’re super pumped.”
Performing on the Grand Ole Opry for the first time was a milestone for the band and Sister Sadie received a standing ovation when they sang “900 Miles.” “When we finally got to the Opry, we were so excited,” says Richardson. “I knew instantly that that was the song we needed to do because Tina sings it so well. Every night when we do it, she captivates the audience and I knew the Opry would be the place to do that. It sounded so amazing in that big room. Tina’s voice filled it up completely and those harmonies come in there. Dale Ann was so haunting. It was the perfect song and the audience just jumped up. The night couldn’t have been any more perfect.”
“The audience response made us break into tears after we got off stage,” adds Adair. “It was amazing.”
Featured on Sister Sadie II, “900 Miles” is a cover of a song by folk singer/civil rights activist Odetta. “I’m a huge Odetta fan, all of us girls are. I was searching for material for this record and I found Odetta’s version of this song. I sent it to the girls, and they all wanted to do it. Deanie said she would arrange it and it only has fiddle on it, so it sounds like the fiddle player arranged the song,” Adair notes with a mischievous laugh. “But it’s an incredible arrangement. I couldn’t think of us doing it any other way than to just feature her fiddle and us three girls’ vocals. We wanted a haunting vibe and I think Deanie definitely accomplished that with the arrangement.”
Paying homage to the opening sequence of Queen's “Bohemian Rhapsody” video, Sister Sadie’s clip underscores a mournful vibe in “900 Miles.” And though some bluegrass groups might not give a nod to Queen’s influence, the members of Sister Sadie had no hesitation and have been having fun with it. “We kind of redid that Queen album pose for sharing it on social media for fun,” says Adair.
Each member of Sister Sadie was a successful musician in her own right before the band came together on a whim with a performance at Nashville’s famed bluegrass venue The Station Inn. “We were just a bunch of girls who had grown up together and decided, ‘Hey let’s play a show and have some fun,’” recalls Richardson, who has performed with Bob Seger, Vince Gill, Patty Loveless and plays regularly with the Opry house band.
Bradley has long been one of bluegrass music’s most acclaimed solo acts. Adair fronted her own band for over 20 years and Britt has played banjo with several notable bands. Coming together as Sister Sadie (a name derived from one of their favorite Tony Rice songs, “Little Sadie”), the band members have been pleasantly surprised at how their fun side project has blossomed into a successful new venture.
“We’ve been talking about what it would look like with us devoting more time and energy towards Sister Sadie,” Adair says. “Our dates will increase a bit and we hope to get back into the studio closer to the end of the fall and start a new record, so we’re working on finding new music. We have fun and that’s what it’s about. When we stop having fun, we all stop doing it.”