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Bluegrass queen returning to Summersville festival

By Bill Lynch, Staff writer
Photos courtesy of RHONDA VINCENT
Award-winning bluegrass performer Rhonda Vincent said her new two-disc album, “Only Me,” is something old and new. One disc is full of bluegrass, but the second disc is a collection of classic country tunes.
Bluegrass queen Rhonda Vincent loves playing bluegrass festivals, especially the older ones, which remind her that bluegrass music fans are just as devoted to the music as she is.

On June 28, bluegrass queen Rhonda Vincent will be returning to Summersville for the Music in the Mountains Bluegrass Festival, one of the bluegrass festivals she and her band The Rage have been playing for years.

Last week, however, she was taking a short break from the road on the heels of a particularly grueling weekend.

“We flew to California and back and played the same day,” she said.

Vincent said she and The Rage were already booked last weekend to play a show in Tennessee, but the Huck Finn Jubilee, in California, really wanted to add them to their festival. So, they called Vincent and asked them if they could come.

“We said the only way we could do it is if we flew out there,” she said.

The festival jumped at it and said, “OK, that would be great. We’ll pay for it.”

So, Rhonda Vincent and The Rage played their show in Tennessee then hopped a flight to Los Angeles and drove to nearby Ontario, California.

After they returned, she and the band took 10 days off.

Vincent wanted to make the most of it and decided she and her husband, Herb, were headed to Austin.

Vincent said, “We’re going to do a little two-steppin’ and listen to some of my favorite musicians, like Red Volkaert — he played guitar for Merle Haggard — and Johnny Cox, who plays one of my favorite instruments, the steel guitar. “I’m going to spend some time with my husband, listen to some great country music, do some dancing and relax.”

She was looking forward to it.

Vincent sees a lot of shows. As a touring musician who plays a lot of shows, she can’t help but hear a lot of music. But working in the music industry as a performer, it’s not always easy to relax and just enjoy the show.

“When you’re playing, you don’t really get to go and just enjoy the music like you want,” she said. “There’s so much responsibility.”

She laughed. “On this trip, I have absolutely no responsibility.”

But that won’t last.

Her vacation will end and she’ll be here in West Virginia and back at work soon enough. She has a new record out, “Only Me,” released in January. The record is a two-disc set. One disc is straight-up bluegrass; the other is a collection of classic country favorites.

Vincent said she’d been working on the first disc for a while when she was inspired to do a old-time country record.

“We were on the Grand Ole Opry the night after George Jones passed,” she said.

“The Opry asked everyone to sing a George Jones song in his honor.”

Vincent and the band performed “When the Grass Grows Over Me,” a top-10 hit for Jones in 1968, and she just felt like she ought to do a whole record of country songs she liked.

“So, I decided to just merge the two records,” she said.

She also reached out to country stars Willie Nelson and Daryle Singletary for a little help.

“I’d worked with Daryle before,” she said. “I’ve been on a lot of his albums, but he’s never been on any of mine.

“Willie, we opened the show for him at the Ryman Auditorium in 2009, and I’d met him, but we’d never sang together.”

Vincent said the most obvious thing to do would have been to do an old country song with each of them. Instead, she drafted them for the bluegrass record.

She wasn’t sure if she and Nelson would sound good together, but the country legend agreed to sing and play guitar on the title track, “Only Me.”

“We traded off licks and even worked in a riff from ‘On the Road Again,’ which was pretty cool,” Vincent said.

Worrying about how it would work turned out to be a lot of worrying about nothing, she said.

“I think Willie could sing with anyone. He doesn’t change, but his voice seems to work with almost anything. It amazes me.”

Vincent isn’t afraid to branch out a little from bluegrass, but she’s fairly devoted to the traditional roots of the music.

She can’t help but notice that there’s been a sort of revival of acoustic music and roots-influenced music like Americana that often borrows traditional instruments like the banjo and the mandolin, but still has a rock ‘n’ roll aesthetic.

She said she didn’t know if the new wave of music helps bluegrass. Vincent added that there are always fads and popularity spikes that come along, but that the music Americana or pop culture events like the film “O Brother, Where Art Thou?” don’t really do much more than just introduce a few more people to bluegrass.

“I do enjoy some of it,” she said. “Nickel Creek has a new record out and they’re doing a reunion.”

Vincent thought that was great, but said what drew her and a lot of other bluegrass fans to the music was its authenticity.

“It’s constant,” she said. “It’s not trendy.” And contrary to some naysayers, she said, it’s very stable. “Fans of bluegrass are very loyal,” she said.

The proof is in festivals like the Huck Finn Jubilee, which has been around for 40 years, and the other, older bluegrass festivals that have been around even longer. Generations of fans keep the music alive.

Vincent said she hoped to be a part of the bluegrass world for a very long time.

She laughed and said, “It’s like Charlie Daniels said. He said his greatest accomplishment has been keeping 30 people gainfully employed for over 40 years.

“I want that too.”

Want to go?

WHAT: Music in the Mountains Bluegrass Festival

WHERE: 7441 Webster Road, ­Summersville

WHEN: Wednesday through Saturday

TICKETS: In advance: adult $40 per day, $110 for three days or $140 for four. At the gate $45 per day, $130 for three days, $140 for four. Children younger than 13 $15 per day. Children younger than 6 free.

INFO: 706-864-7203 or www.adamsandandersonbluegrass.com

Reach Bill Lynch at lynch@wvgazette.com or 304-348-5195.


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