For ‘Queen of Bluegrass,’ it feels like coming home
Rhonda Vincent & The Rage play New Year's Day at Bill's Music Shop in West Cola
For lauded bluegrass artist Rhonda Vincent, playing in Columbia always evokes a little bit of nostalgia.
She originally met Bill’s Music Shop & Pickin’ Parlor founder Bill Wells when she was just a child prodigy in Minnesota with her family’s band, The Sally Mountain Show, and Wells was touring the Midwestern bluegrass music circuit.
Many trips to the West Columbia landmark later, including her most recent appearance at Bill’s a few months after Wells’ passing in 2011, it still brings a smile to her face playing the small but legendary venue.
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“It’s so intimate playing a place like Bill’s,” Vincent told Cola Daily recently via phone from Tennessee. “You can see the crowd reactions, their faces, and people will talk to you and even make comments during the show – you just go with it; it’s fun, up close, and personal.”
The Society For the Preservation of Bluegrass Music in America named Vincent their Entertainer, Female Vocalist, and Instrumental Group of the Year in 2016, and the International Bluegrass Music Association has piled on the accolades over the years as well. In 2000, the Wall Street Journal proclaimed Vincent “the new Queen of Bluegrass.”
One new benchmark was set this year that Vincent is especially proud of, however.
“This is the first time that every person in the band got a nomination in the same year,” she noted. “I have a lot of young guys in the band and I love to live the newness of being recognized through these kinds of awards, through them.
“We work really hard, so when something happens like having our “All The Rage” live DVD debut at number one on the Billboard Bluegrass chart, it’s that much more special to me,” she added.
Vincent has made a career and a reputation out of tightly constructed, traditional bluegrass with some real fire behind the playing; the list of instrumentalists who have passed through the ranks of The Rage is a distinguished, growing musical fraternity.
She’s equally capable of paying tribute to the greats on songs such as her classic, “Is The Grass Any Bluer,” and delving into Country as she did on her duets album with Gene Watson, “Your Money and My Good Looks.”
As a musician of the road-warrior, touring-band variety, Vincent admitted her New Year’s tradition is to be playing somewhere.
“We start the year out on the road; after taking most of December off our traditional New Year is being together as a band,” she said.
The Rage is an international act, spreading the bluegrass sound worldwide these days, but with those far-flung venues comes some unusual opportunities and obligations, according to Vincent.
“We’re going to the Czech Republic and Switzerland in the fall of this coming year,” she said. “We went to seven countries in three weeks last year in Europe; our most traveled-to country is probably Switzerland, where we have to fly in through the Alps to get to the gigs. Last time we were there, the promoter made a deal with a gondola operator to take us up to the very top of this mountain where there was a roller coaster that slings you off the mountain and back; he had all the acts from the festival we were playing do this and get their pictures taken on it for the sponsor, who owned the coaster.”
Closer to home, in December Vincent and the Rage participated in the musical fundraiser “Smoky Mountains Rise” that Dolly Parton organized for the fire victims of Gatlinburg, Tenn. It was just the latest in a long line of connections between the two artists.
“The telethon was a madhouse, with so many great artists there,” Vincent said. “To pull something like that off in nine days, I’m not sure anyone other than Dolly could have done it.”
Vincent’s relationship with Parton goes back to 1992 when she got the call to sing on the latter’s “Slow Dancing With the Moon” album.
“She has sung on my albums since, and I’ve done more with her also,” Vincent said of the ongoing connection between them. “She’s an incredible role model, and that fundraiser is just the latest example of the kind things she has done and continues to do.”
The same could be said for Vincent, whose Bluegrass career continues to break new ground even in a seemingly traditional genre.
Rhonda Vincent & The Rage
Bill’s Music Shop & Pickin’ Parlor — 710 Meeting St., West Cola
Sunday, January 1
Tix $25 advance; $30 at the door