Music ‘a way of life’ for bluegrass artist Rhonda Vincent

04/07/2013 8:18 AM

08/08/2014 10:33 AM

Not many recording artists can put out a 30-year retrospective CD at the ripe old age of 36.

Rhonda Vincent did in 1998, and she hasn’t slowed down since, touring 11 months a year and releasing new music on a regular basis.

“I grew up in this musical family,” Vincent, one of the most celebrated artists in bluegrass, said by telephone last week. “It was a way of life that evolved in a career.”

Vincent and her band, The Rage, perform Sunday at the Bartlett Arboretum in Belle Plaine to continue its 2013 Tree House Concert series.

She said she has quite a few friends in the Wichita area from playing at the Walnut Valley Festival and other venues.

“A landmark show for us was when we opened for George Jones on Halloween night,” she said. “I don’t remember the year, maybe 13 years ago. We have a lot of friends there. That makes it a homecoming.”

Known for her beautiful voice and instrumental prowess, Vincent grew up near Kirksville, Mo., where her family had a TV show in addition to playing live gigs at places like Branson’s Silver Dollar City.

“We played after school until dinner,” she said. “Then, after dinner, friends came over and we played until bedtime. You assume everyone is doing this at their house.”

After making several recordings with her family band, the Sally Mountain Band, Vincent won the Nashville Network’s “You Can Be a Star” competition in 1985. She released her first solo album three years later.

Vincent said her show at the Arb will cover much of her varied career. Her most recent CDs were a 2011 country collaboration with Gene Watson called “Your Money and My Good Looks” and a 2012 gospel effort, “Sunday Mornin’ Singin’,” recorded live in the same church where she sang as a child. In January, she released a single on iTunes called “I’d Rather Hear I Don’t Love You (Than Nothing At All)” — a country song in three-four that Vincent calls “the hardest song I ever sang.”

“People have been going crazy over it. It goes from really high to really low, with a kind of George Jones roll of the words.”

She also promises plenty of the “high-energy bluegrass music” she’s best known for. “We want to make it fun. We love the music we play.”

Vincent was named the International Bluegrass Music Association’s female vocalist seven years in a row, from 2000 to 2006, and has lent her voice to recordings by Dolly Parton (a huge fan), Alan Jackson and others. She plays mandolin, guitar and fiddle.

The Rage has assembled a band of bluegrass superstars in their own right: Josh Williams, three-time IBMA guitar player of the year; fiddler Hunter Berry; upright bassist Mickey Harris; banjo player Aaron McDaris; and Brent Burke, described on Vincent’s website as “one of the world’s greatest resophonic” — or dobro — “guitarists.”

“You will not believe these guys,” Vincent said. “I stand next to them amazed every night.”

“Every night” is not much of an exaggeration. Vincent plays three or four shows most weeks, taking a break only from Thanksgiving to New Year’s.

Vincent was scheduled to play at the Grand Ole Opry in Nashville on Friday. But she hasn’t left her home in Missouri. She sang with her mother in church there on Easter. She’d just made a batch of Martha White cornbread — the company is a longtime sponsor — there when reached by phone.

Vincent said she didn’t realize until she was a teenager that other kids were spending their time going to the skating rink rather than practicing and performing music. She’s not sorry her life took a different path.

“A family friend told me, ‘I thought as soon as you could you would get completely away from it. Instead, you grew to love it,’ ” Vincent recalled. “How did I choose this? It’s more like it chose me.”

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