Rhonda Vincent keeps high lonesome sound alive
Talk to any hardcore bluegrass fan and Rhonda Vincent’s name is bound to come up. She was named the Female Vocalist of the Year each year from 2000 through 2006 by the International Bluegrass Music Association and The Wall Street Journal hailed her as the “new queen of bluegrass.” She began her music career at the ripe old age of five with her family in the “Sally Mountain Show” and music can be traced back five generations in the Vincent family. She recently sat down with the Dayton City Paper and talked about growing up on the stage and the tradition-steeped nature of bluegrass music.
You come from a musical family and have been playing music virtually your entire life. Not many people can relate to that lifestyle. Were there pressures from that atmosphere?
When I was three years and five years old, growing up in a musical family, you just think that everyone else is at their house doing the same thing or traveling like you do. You don’t really think about it as anything but a normal life. My dad picked me up from school every day, so he, my grandpa Bill and I could sing and play till dinner. After dinner, friends came over and we played till bedtime. This was an every night occurrence and I thought it was a perfectly normal way of life, as if everyone was doing the same thing. It wasn’t until I became a teenager that I discovered that Tommy Parsons and Barb Wheeler were at the skating rink, or staying overnight with friends and I was with my family playing music. I grew to love the music so much; it wasn’t really a choice of having it as a career. It was a way of life that just evolved into a career. –Rhonda Vincent
Is it easier to find inspiration with so many legendary players to draw from or is it harder to carve a unique sound of your own?
I think the legendary bluegrass musicians give a wonderful foundation and template for a continuous authenticity to the music. Early in my career, I would experiment with the parameters in order to figure out how to meld the hard-driving traditional bluegrass music into my own musical sound and still give it a contemporary edge, in order to create something fresh and new. With the saturation of so many artists in all genres of music, it makes for a great challenge with each new project – sometimes making something new means going back to an original sound. -RV
Bluegrass offers fans a wealth of festivals all across the country. What are the advantages and disadvantages of playing a festival versus playing your own show?
The advantage of a festival is we get to play two shows and visit in between with our bluegrass friends and other artists. The disadvantage of that is it makes for a very long day, doing two shows and signing after each one and the wait time sometimes will bog you down. The advantage of a show is you get a realistic view of your brand and your value. If people come to a show that only you are performing at, you know they love what you do enough to pay for a ticket, instead of a festival where there are multiple artists. I love to perform at various types of venues. I think it keeps us fresh and challenges us to different situations. It’s important that we be able to play our best, even if the conditions are not perfect. It’s one of those self-fulfilling experiences. Where others might choose to go into controlled environments, where they see the same type of stage with the same set up night after night, I would get bored with that. I love waking up to see where we are next, who I may encounter and what adventure is before us. -RV
Many people might look at a life of constant touring and travel as exhausting. You’ve spent so much of your life as a professional musician, is it hard for you to adjust to down time?
It is difficult for me to just chill out. There are even more things for me to do when I’m off the road, since we have our own record label. I always greet each day with a list of 50 or more things to do, knowing I’ll have to prioritize to accomplish a portion of them. -RV
Perhaps more than any other style of music, bluegrass fans hold tight to tradition. Is it tough to balance staying true to a somewhat rigid construct while still challenging yourself to explore new areas?
I think each artist must do what their heart leads them to do. Ultimately, each artist should do what they find will make them successful. There have been many things I’d LIKE to do, but I found it was not feasible. I think the challenge is changing things, whatever it might be, and no matter how difficult it is to make the change and being willing to do whatever it takes to make you successful. That in turn requires you to do a complete evaluation of every facet of your career, and make the hard choices. -RV
Rhonda Vincent and the Rage will perform on Saturday, March 9 at Miami University Hamilton’s Parrish Auditorium, 1601 University Blvd. in Hamilton. Performance at 7:30 p.m. Tickets are $25 ($23 for seniors, $16 for students and children 12 and under). For more information, visit regionals.muohio.edu/artistseries/hamilton.htm or rhondavincent.com.