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Rhonda Vincent rages on live

By Rick Bell, March 2005

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"It turned out exactly how I wanted," Vincent says. "This is the best possible presentation of what we do on stage."

Note that Vincent, who spent several years in the mid-'90s recording for now-defunct country label Giant Records, which included country singers Clay Walker and Daryle Singletary, among others, rarely uses the term "I" when speaking about her music.

It could be argued there's no "I" in band, to coin the sports cliché, but Vincent truly appreciates her colleagues on stage. It shines through in spades on the live album. In fact, it could be argued that there's a little too much Rage and not enough Rhonda Vincent.

"It took a lot of planning to get everyone there," Vincent admits. "There were times when it was a bit of a frenzy."

While not completely flawless, the album nonetheless is pure Vincent - bluegrass played by family and friends who absolutely love what they're doing. There are 8 new songs among the 21 tracks, along a number of Vincent favorites.

"We re-recorded our most popular songs," she says. "But we spiced them up."

"I'm excited to see how it goes. And you never know with bluegrass radio. You can ship the album to them, and it's always interesting to see what they play. It's not at all like country radio. They tend to be pretty spontaneous with their selections."

There's the aforementioned duet with Sally on "One Step Ahead of the Blues," where daughter's sweet harmonies delicately surround mom's lead.

Harmonies, of course, are part and parcel with Vincent's music.

Each band member adds their harmonies to Vincent's lead, yet she gives each their due, whether picking out a solo or taking center stage vocally. All get at least one song in the spotlight.

Bassist Mickey Harris takes a solo on "Heartbreakin' Old Achin' Blues," guitarist Josh Williams belts out "Cheatin' Kind of Life," and fiddler/mandolinist Hunter Berry performs several songs, including an instrumental duet with Williams on "Son Drop in."

But it's legendary banjo picker Kenny Ingram who ignites the crowd with his instrumental "Road Rage" and Flatt & Scruggs' gospel-tinged "So Happy I'll Be."

Vincent, who introduces Ingram as someone she listened to every morning on the Martha White Hour while growing up, added that it was hard to believe he was onstage with her, let alone a member of the Rage.

"Kenny was retired," Vincent recalls of Lester Flatt's longtime banjoist. "One day I just called him. It took me six months to get his phone number. He's very guarded. So I called him, and he didn't seem very interested."

"He changed his number twice. I did a little research on him, and so I called him a third time and a fourth time. I said, 'You're the man. We need you.' And he said, "I made a mistake. I should have said yes the first time.'"

The thought was, Ingram wasn't up for being on the road. Considering the nonstop schedule, few would be.

"Someone said, 'Oh, Kenny can't take the road.' But he loves it. This is his fourth year. He said, 'Anyone who doesn't like the road doesn't like playing music.' Everyone in the band shares the same passion for the road and travel and their music."

While the travel may be a grind, Vincent and the band at least ride in style.

"We get to travel in the Martha White Bluegrass Express," Vincent proudly notes of the Southern kitchen staple. It's one of the perks for being the spokes-band for the flour company that sponsored the likes of everyone from Tennessee Ernie Ford to Alison Krauss + Union Station. "We're in negotiations to renew with them. Hopefully we'll get a new bus out of the deal."It beats the heck out of a cramped 12-passenger van, which many a bluegrass band would even consider a luxury. Vincent's been there. And she's also enjoyed the spoils of being a Nashville star, albeit for only two records, both of which met with limited commercial success.

"You get a $150,000 recording budget in Nashville," she says. "You get the best microphones, top producers, your make-up is done for you, the whole works. In bluegrass, you get a budget of about $10,000, and you do everything."

Though it wasn't what most would consider a commercial success, Vincent fondly recalls her time with Giant.

"That time brought me to where I'm at today," she says. "I look at it as my college years in the music business. It eventually all trickles down. When I went to Northeast Missouri State, I majored in accounting, and I took photography and business law. Each day, each year I learned from those experiences."

There's also practical experience. Vincent believes many people still carry a dim view of bluegrass music and its performers.

"Bluegrass is still stereotyped," she says. "People still think it's 'Deliverance.' So one thing we do is make sure we look good when we go on stage, not like we just mowed the grass."Yet, she also believes her band's success starts with the music.

"Hunter fits musically what we do; Mickey plays ahead of the beat. I like that; it makes the music exciting."

Performing live is also instinctive, she says.

"You walk on stage and from the first song you feel out the audience. Our show can quickly shift. If the fiddler takes a break and the audience goes crazy, we do fiddle tunes."

Not exactly like mapping out a year's worth of shows, where pretty much every date is locked in.

"I'm starting to plan three years in advance now," Vincent says, already looking toward 2007. "I need to make sure and block out time. That's when my youngest daughter graduates."

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