All the blue rage

Acclaimed bluegrass musician Rhonda Vincent visits the Big Room

IN YOUR FACE BLUEGRASS <br>Praised by her music peers and heaped with awards, Rhonda Vincent hits Chico on Wednesday, June 11.

Praised by her music peers and heaped with awards, Rhonda Vincent hits Chico on Wednesday, June 11.

Photo courtesy of Rounder Records

Dolly Parton says of Rhonda Vincent, “What a talent. What a beauty. What a special human being … I love this girl.” And Alison Krauss describes this woman’s music and voice as being “incredibly important” to her, and says she “can’t wait for the rest of the world to catch on and see what they’re missing.”

You’d think that with those accolades (and, believe me, there are more, such as “Entertainer” and “Female Vocalist of the Year” from the International Bluegrass Music Association) her name would be better known than it is, at least out here on the West Coast. Granted, I’ve heard her songs played on occasion on the local community radio station, thanks to some in-touch programmers, but I’m guessing that there are a whole lot of people who haven’t heard of Rhonda Vincent. And it’s about time that they did.

I talked to the singer/songwriter/mandolinist by phone recently at her home in Missouri. The thoroughly down-home and personable Vincent spoke of music and family, her two great loves. In fact, the two are inseparable in some ways for Vincent. For one thing, it was her parents’ bluegrass band that Vincent first played in at the ripe old age of 3. When Vincent was 5, she was performing with the Vincent family band on its local television show, and the next year over KIRX radio in Kirksville, Mo. By the time she was 23, she had already recorded eight albums with her family’s group, The Sally Mountain Show, which shared its name with the Sally Mountain Festival, started 35 years ago by her family (her dad actually bought and cleared the 63 acres where the festival is located). To this day, the Vincent family has a hand in running the annual July bluegrass festival, with mama Carolyn still picking the berries for the blackberry pies she makes from scratch to sell at the event, and brother Darrin Vincent (now a member of Ricky Skaggs’ band, Kentucky Thunder) taking a break every so often from flipping a burger in the cook shack to run out and adjust a knob on the sound board.

Fresh from her May 3 performance on the Grand Ole Opry with Alison Krauss and 10-year-old fiddle phenomenon Molly Cherryholmes, Vincent goes on tour in support of her latest CD, One Step Ahead (Rounder, 2003), with her band across the country for the month of June. Rhonda Vincent & The Rage pull into Chico in their Martha White Flour-sponsored (a long-standing bluegrass tradition) tour bus on June 11 for their show in Sierra Nevada Brewery’s Big Room. Vincent promises “in-your-face, high-energy bluegrass,” and brings the musicianship that will deliver: Vincent herself, of course, on her crystalline vocals and mandolin; Artie Blaylock on guitar and high harmony vocals; Mickey Harris on bass and low harmonies; Kenny Ingram (who used to play with Lester Flatt) on banjo; and 19-year-old Nashville Bluegrass Music Awards Fiddle Player of the Year Hunter Berry. They will be performing such songs as “Missouri Moon,” off of One Step Ahead, a wistful ballad written by Vincent’s friend, fellow Missouri singer/songwriter Jennifer Strickland (proof that not only can Vincent and her crew play “in your face,” but they can also play a very moving slow song when they want to). “Caught in the Crossfire,” also new, written by Vincent, is a mournful minor-key tune about a little boy caught in the middle of his parents’ divorce. Another new original, “Kentucky Borderline,” is just the kind of energetic bluegrass tune that Vincent’s teenaged daughter, Tensel, would be thinking of when she tells her mom to “Kick butt!”

Rhonda Vincent and the Rage are going to kick butt. If you want to have a truly fun and authentic bluegrass experience, do not miss their show. I’m certainly not going to! And if you want a great recipe for cornbread, check out Vincent’s Web site ( and see why she was named 2002 Celebrity Cornbread Cook-off Winner for Rhonda’s Ragin’ Cornbread, “spiced to the max” with hot sausage, jalapeño peppers, green chilies and hot pepper sauce.

Down home and kickin’ butt—gotta love it!