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The Daily Tar Heel

Local Label Wins Grammy

Dolly Parton recently won a Grammy for Best Bluegrass Album with her 1999 album, The Grass is Blue. The album marks the label's ninth Grammy since its founding in 1978.

Parton's stardom is giving Sugar Hill high-profile exposure to both artists and listeners.

Not only does the label benefit from Parton's name recognition, but she is also bringing bluegrass music -- the label's specialty -- to a wider audience. Bev Paul, general manager of Sugar Hill, said many music lovers might not know exactly what bluegrass is all about and that Parton's fame is educating listeners about bluegrass and bringing attention to the thriving bluegrass community.

"She is bringing a lot of people to the music who did not know what bluegrass was," he said.

"People think it is low-brow and screechy, but it's not; it is very sophisticated music."

But the album's success also gave the label its own perks, he added.

"We're in a period of real steady growth -- having Dolly on the label has real benefits," he said.

"We're getting the attention of other artists that don't have a comfortable home in Nashville."

Parton's recently released follow-up album, Little Sparrow, has enjoyed success bolstered by the exposure bluegrass music received during Parton's performance during the Grammy ceremony.

Sugar Hill Records established itself in its bluegrass niche when founder Barry Poss decided to start up a record label specializing in traditional American music. The label has stuck to its bluegrass roots but also expanded to include Texas singer/songwriters and young bands, such as the Grammy-nominated Nickel Creek, a band that has a traditional music foundation but more of a rock sound.

The niche gives Sugar Hill the chance to conquer a corner of the music world and give an alternative to the traditional Nashville scene.

The label has more than 100 artists signed, including the Red Clay Ramblers, Lonesome River Band and Lou Reid.

"It's an advantage not to be in a music town," Paul said.

"A lot of companies set up to try to impress each other and are doing a lot of expensive things to try to keep up with the Jones."

The Sugar Hill label has an office in Nashville to keep up with what goes on there and to serve as a touch base for artists. However, it remains removed from the traditional country music town.

Instead of worrying about competition and image, the label can concentrate on the artists and turning out top-quality music.

The boost from this year's Grammy gave the label higher visibility in order to attract new and established musicians alike looking for an artist-friendly label.

"We give our artists an extraordinary amount of freedom musically," Paul said.

"We don't meddle, and that is something that artists really crave these days."

Sugar Hill is optimistic about the future of bluegrass, continuing to bring diversity to its company by bringing in new artists that all have roots in bluegrass but have an edgier sound than traditional bluegrass bands.

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