More than just a picker, Vincent shines as writer, producer, singer | AspenTimes.com
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More than just a picker, Vincent shines as writer, producer, singer

Stewart Oksenhorn

More than once since the release of last year’s “One Step Ahead,” listeners have commented on the “magic” Rhonda Vincent captured in tandem with her co-producer, brother Darrin Vincent.

“‘What a magic formula you’ve crafted,'” said Rhonda, echoing the words of her fans.

It gives the 41-year-old Vincent a chuckle to hear that they have crafted any formula. If there is any magic, says Vincent, it comes from the fact that she and her brother – and their parents, siblings, grandparents and neighbors – made a life of playing music from the time little Rhonda could walk. “That’s what we’ve been doing all our lives,” said Vincent.

Music was the essential activity in tiny Green Top, Missouri, the farming community where Vincent was raised. The Vincent family had a radio and

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TV show – “The Sally Mountain Show” – that included three generations of Vincents, plus assorted friends and neighbors. The Vincents were the house band at local jamborees. And time away from the stage and studio was also spent making music.

“If we weren’t performing, we played at home,” said Vincent, who brings her band, the Rage, to a performance tomorrow, Thursday, March 25, in the Wheeler Opera House’s fourth annual Beyond Bluegrass Festival of Acoustic Music. (The five-day festival, which runs nightly through Sunday, March 28, opens tonight, Wednesday, March 24, with the trio of Phillips, Grier & Flinner headlining.)

“It was an everyday occurrence. It was the biggest part of life. We performed, we played with friends, we recorded our radio show and TV show,” she said.

Early on, Rhonda played the snare drum in the family band. When she was 8, she was just a singer, given one song each night in the spotlight. But economics dictated that Vincent needed to be a picker.

“The guy who ran the show decided that whoever didn’t play an instrument wasn’t going to get paid,” she said. “At the time, I was just singing my one song. So my dad gave me a mandolin and told me to start playing, so he could get paid.”

Thus began Vincent’s progression toward becoming a well-rounded musician. She is the mandolinist for the Rage, the band she has led for five years. She is a three-time winner of the International Bluegrass Music Association’s Female Vocalist of the Year award. She produces her own records, and on “One Step Ahead,” she emerged more than ever as a songwriter, contributing four songs to the album with her co-writer Terry Herd.

Vincent has never seen too much of a divide between the acoustic bluegrass she plays with the Rage and country music. When she played with the Sally Mountain Show, the band’s instrumentation included drums and electric guitar, fiddles and mandolins. And fitting it into a category was the last thing on anyone’s mind.

“I’m not sure you’d call it bluegrass,” she said. “Where I grew up, the music we listened to was considered country music.”

Only some years later, when the Sally Mountain Show went to its first bluegrass festival, did the Vincents focus on playing a more traditional, acoustic bluegrass sound. But it didn’t dawn on Rhonda then that there was much separation between the styles.

“It’s the perception of the listener,” she said. “The songs are the same, the instruments are the same. When we opened for George Jones, we got mobbed when we came off the stage and people said, ‘We love your kind of country music.'”

A decade ago, the lines became somewhat clearer for Vincent. She made two albums of what she considers mainstream country music for Giant Records in the mid-’90s. And while her recent, all-acoustic albums with the Rage are a good step away from that, she sees the flirtation with mainstream country a valuable experience.

“I had this life of music with my family. And that was on-the-job training,” she said. “Those two albums [on Giant], that was my university. I got to sit and watch the best of Nashville.”

After completing that part of her education, Vincent saw she had a choice to make. “It was a crossroads and I thought, what would I pursue?” she said.

Vincent signed with the roots label Rounder, and from her first album, 2000’s “Back Home Again,” it became clear she was headed into the heart of bluegrass.

The Wheeler Opera House’s Beyond Bluegrass Festival of Acoustic Music opens tonight, Wednesday, March 24, with Phillips, Grier & Flinner, with the duo of Frank Martin & Randy Utterback opening. Rhonda Vincent & the Rage play tomorrow, Thursday, March 25, with the Lone Pine Bluegrass Band opening.

The Jerry Douglas Band is set for Friday, March 26, with singer-songwriter Dan Sheridan opening. The Seldom Scene headlines Saturday, March 27, with the Crowlan Ferlie Celtic Band opening. The festival concludes Sunday, March 28 with a double bill of Bearfoot Bluegrass and Open Road.

All shows begin at 7:30 p.m. Tickets are available at the Wheeler Opera House box office.

Stewart Oksenhorn’s e-mail address is stewart@aspentimes.com


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