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From Norwich to Grammy Nomination

The band Della Mae has been nominated for a Grammy for Best Bluegrass Album. Celia Woodsmith, a former Norwich resident and Hanover High graduate, is second from right. (Courtesy photograph)

The band Della Mae has been nominated for a Grammy for Best Bluegrass Album. Celia Woodsmith, a former Norwich resident and Hanover High graduate, is second from right. (Courtesy photograph)

By the beginning of 2011, Celia Woodsmith was ready to move on. Several years before, after graduating college, the former Norwich resident decided to head to Boston to play music professionally, to see how it’d shake out.

She played shows, released an EP, and became a part of the city’s surprisingly vibrant roots music scene. But by 2011, she was ready to move on. Just before she did, though, Kimber Ludiker, the fiddler for the local bluegrass band Della Mae, asked Woodsmith to perform a few shows with the group.

She did. And just three scant years later, she and the band have been nominated for a Grammy award.

“This is really something that you just dream about that you honestly don’t think will ever happen,” said Woodsmith, 28, who sings and plays guitar in Della Mae.

The band found out about the nomination in early December, shortly after playing a show in Johnson City, Tenn., and the car they were all traveling in erupted in screams. The band’s label, Rounder Records, had submitted its most recent album, This World Oft Can Be, for consideration in three Grammy categories back in the summer, and the band quickly forgot about the submission.

“We just sort of thought it’s never going to happen,” said Woodsmith, who wrote or co-wrote eight of the album’s 12 songs.

But the album will compete against work by The Boxcars, Dailey & Vincent, James King and the Del McCoury Band for the Best Bluegrass Album Grammy on Sunday. And Woodsmith will be at the Los Angeles telecast, which starts at 8 p.m., along with her mom, the poet and occasional Valley News contributor Sybil Smith.

If Della Mae does win the award, it would represent something of a break from genre tradition — the band is made up of five women who buck the trend of male-dominated groups, picking and strumming at their instruments just as fiercely. And the music itself combines traditional elements with a more modern feel.

Woodsmith’s later entrance into the group mirrors a later start in music. As a student at Hanover High School (where before she adopted her stage name, she was Celia Woods-Smith), from which she graduated in 2003, she sang in the chorus and did theater, but shied away from making music. She said she didn’t have faith in her musical skills.

She didn’t start playing guitar and singing with regularity until she was a freshman at the University of Vermont. And even then, it wasn’t Woodsmith’s grand goal — she was an anthropology major.

She slid into music organically. She released a roots music EP, Off the Floor, with collaborator Avi Salloway her senior year of college. They moved to Boston for Woodsmith’s five-year music-making experiment, expanded to a blues-rock quartet called Hey Mama, released more music, and met the members of Della Mae.

Woodsmith was considering going back to school when Ludiker, the fiddle player, took her out for coffee and asked to her to play a couple of shows with Della Mae, “just to see how it works,” as Woodsmith remembers.

She didn’t have a background in bluegrass — Woodsmith’s early musical loves ranged from Bonnie Raitt to The Doors to Jimi Hendrix — and realized she’d be playing a genre with which she was unfamiliar with band mates who had been entrenched in the music since they were little. But she decided to accept Ludiker’s offer.

“I never saw myself in a bluegrass band,” Woodsmith said, “but now I couldn’t imagine myself anywhere different.”

Jon Wolper can be reached at jwolper@vnews.com or 603-727-3242.