It’s Good To Be Queen

Bill Mossman
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August 03, 2011
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So just how do you greet “the queen of bluegrass” when there’s 7,000plus miles of distance between the two of you, and your only means of communication comes courtesy of a Skype video call?

Do you bow before her and hope you don’t clumsily smash your forehead into your work desk, slip into unconsciousness and end the long-distance interview faster than a J.Lo marriage? Or do you play it safe and simply address her as “your majesty” or “your royal highness”?

I could sure use a few tips on royal etiquette right about now.

“Hi, Rhonda ...” I manage to say. Doggone it! I done went and called her by her first name.

“Hi, Bill.”

What? No rebuke for addressing the queen improperly?


No “off with his head!” edict?

Well, of course not, silly. After all, they don’t come any sweeter than bluegrass darling and southern charmer Rhonda Vincent.

“I’m just back from our show,” she continues, referring to her most recent appearance before loyal subjects in Zurich, Switzerland. “I can do the interview now if that’s convenient for you?”

Yes, it’s apparently true that Vincent is refreshingly polite, devoid of any elitism and downright accommodating even when it’s midnight her time and she’s obviously tired following a two-hour set before scores of adoring fans.

It’s also true that her voice remains unmatched in the subgenre of country music known as bluegrass. When Vincent sings, there’s a yearning in her vocals that is undeniably clear as water drawn from a countryside brook, and majestic and firm as the Ozarks in her home state of Missouri. No wonder the Wall Street Journal gave her that royal appellation, the queen of bluegrass, back in 2000. Her brand of music one that stays true to its roots while incorporating a contemporary edge isn’t just for the stereotypical hillbilly clodhopper anymore, but for people from all walks of life, including urban folk in business attire.

Tarrus Riley

“When the Wall Street Journal gave me that title, we had men in suits coming to our shows saying, ‘If it’s good enough for the Wall Street Journal, it’s good enough for me!’” Vincent says.

Since then, Vincent and her band, The Rage, have been on fire, thanks to live performances that feature blistering chops, tightly-woven harmonies and pure, unadulterated joy. And her records continue to be scooped up by millions of admirers while the individual accolades (more than 80 awards alone from the International Bluegrass Music Association and Society for the Preservation of Bluegrass Music of America) keep pouring in.

Best yet, the award-winning singer and her supergroup of musicians will be in town for a concert, scheduled for 3:30 p.m. Aug. 14 at McKinley High School Auditorium. Tickets can be purchased at http://www.bluegrasshawaii.com.

Musical Notes tracked down the hardworking musician on the last leg of her European tour and got her to answer questions about a thus-far splendid career, and plans to hold court in her first-ever concert in the Five-0 state:

MN: Seems like you’re winning over new and younger bluegrass fans every year. Your upcoming concert in Hawaii, in fact, calls for 500 reserved seats for children and teenagers ages 18 and younger, who will be charged just $1.

RV: We want people of all ages to come out to our family-friendly show. I think it’s a great way to grow an audience and educate kids about our brand of music.

MN: Your path into music began early in life. You started singing at age 3 and made your first recording, Mule Skinner Blues, when you were 5. Did you choose music as a career, or did it choose you?

RV: I think it chose me. I’m the fifth generation of the Vincent family that has performed, so music was always a natural thing for us to do. Aside from our family group, The Sally Mountain Show, we had both TV and radio shows. When I was young, my dad would pick me up from school every day and, along with my grandpa, we would play music until dinner. After dinner, friends would come over and we would play until bedtime. This was an every-night occurrence. So to make a career out of music is, well, just icing on the cake.

MN: Aside from your considerable singing abilities, you’re also an accomplished mandolin, guitar and fiddle player. If there was one musical talent you could not live without, what would it be?


RV: I think I would always want to sing. I actually experienced nearly losing my voice after a stage light fell during a concert in Lubbock, Texas and hit me in the head. The injury was painful and because of it, I actually had to hire a mandolin player to come and play while I sang. Then at the last concert before I was to have surgery, I told the audience that when I left there that night, it could be the last time I ever sang. Fortunately, I’m still singing today.

MN: You haven’t been afraid to take chances in your career transitioning away from country music back in the ‘90s and going off on your own last year to start your own label. Do you enjoy taking risks?

RV: I do love new experiences. For example, I just did an all-duet project with Gene Watson, the greatest voice in country music. To get to sing with a voice like that, I can’t tell you how much that means to me. So I do love the excitement of doing different things.

 

SMALL-KINE notes:

If you’re getting “a feeling inside bubbling over,” it’s probably the vibe that’s building for reggae sensation Tarrus Riley, in concert with his 10-piece band, Blak Soil, Aug. 11 at the Waterfront at Aloha Tower Marketplace. The former dancehall deejay and son of crooner Jimmy Riley has found a real riddim among locals thanks to an ability to release feel-good love tunes (Love’s Contagious, She’s Royal, etc.) and social conscious-themed songs a la Bob Marley, Lucky Dube and Black Uhuru. Doors open at 6:30 p.m. ...

It’ll be a backyard jam for many of Hawaii’s finest musicians during Saturday’s fourth annual Gabby Pahinui Waimanalo Kanikapila festival at Waimanalo Beach Park, where the songs go non-stop from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. Among the artists scheduled to perform are The Carmen Haugen Quartet, Cyril and Bla Pahinui, Peter Moon and Dennis Kamakahi.


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