It’s good to be the queen: A conversation with Rhonda Vincent

art frIn art, as in life, what matters most is following your heart, never compromising your beliefs and holding steady to a strong sense of integrity.

With those three attributes as your foundation, it is only a matter of time and place before your wildest dreams come to fruition. It’s about hard work. It’s being aware that success — true success — is a slow burn that comes to those with patience, persistence and passion. 

And it is a culmination of all these things that makes up the body, mind and soul of Rhonda Vincent. Dubbed the “Queen of Bluegrass,” the 52-year-old is a magnetic force of nature, onstage and off. Named a seven-time (in a row) “Female Vocalist of the Year” by the International Bluegrass Music Association, Vincent had traversed the globe, spreading her message of family and melodic beauty far and wide. 

The Smoky Mountain News caught up with Vincent as she was recording her new Christmas album between tour stops in Nashville. Recently celebrating her 172nd appearance at the legendary Grand Ole Opry, she spoke of her love of bluegrass, what is means to be a performer, and why the last vestige of “real country music” may just lie in the sounds made famous by Bill Monroe.

Smoky Mountain News: You’re been in bluegrass since you were 3 years old. What sets it apart from other genres of music?

Rhonda Vincent: Well, there’s an authenticity in what we do. It’s real. It’s what you see is what you get. These days, people can create any sound they want. But, when you come see us, and come to see bluegrass, what you hear in the studio is what you’ll hear from us in person, over the phone, at a concert. You’re hearing that same quality, and I think that’s rare and that’s why people are migrating towards us — it’s a real, authentic sound. You find that in bluegrass, in acoustic music and nowhere else. 

SMN: It seems to me there’s a recent surge in the popularity of bluegrass. I sometimes think that might be attributed to the notion that “real country music” these days points more towards bluegrass than what “pop country” is on the radio.

RV: People are walking away from pop country and gravitating towards bluegrass because a lot of that old country sound is only found in bluegrass these days. 

SMN: It’s the realness, that honest songwriting of old country that has always been part of bluegrass.

RV: Absolutely. People always say, “Oh, country music is dying” or “I don’t like country music.” Well, there are different levels and different kinds of country music, different styles. I mean, I did a duet album with Gene Watson, one of the greatest classic country singers that there is, and we found this incredible audience at Country’s Family Reunion. There is an audience for this kind of music, and, as you say, a realness to it. Gene is as good as it gets when you’re listening to classic country music. It’s not that it’s dying or that it’s gone, it’s just different styles, and with the Internet these days you can seek it out.

SMN: Even though you’re only in your early 50s, you’ve already had such a full career. Is it weird that folks look at you as a torchbearer of bluegrass?

RV: It was for a while, but then I understood it. I still feel like I’m that 16-year-old running around at the bluegrass festivals, but now I have my own daughters who are married and out of college. I mean, just last night, this little girl, who was no more than 4 years old, ran up to me after our show. We just did a three and a half hour show, for two nights in a row, and she just comes to me, so adorable. I was resting my feet and she just hugs me, and didn’t even say a word. Her mother messaged me today and said, “You made my daughter’s day.” And then I hear from others who say, “I play the mandolin because of you” and “My daughter plays bluegrass because of you.” You’re made aware very quickly that you’re influencing people, and we take that very seriously because what we want to present is something very wholesome.

SMN: Why is it important that bluegrass survives and thrives in a modern world?

RV: You know, it’s getting to be where a lot of the songs out there in the mainstream have no substance to them. I love all genres of music, and I listen to them, and I really can’t get into some of these hit songs. Someone says the same line and plays the same note over and over — I don’t really derive any inspiration from that. It’s about the songwriting and the music that moves you, and once you’re exposed to it, you feel that — it becomes part of you. It’s not just coming to a bluegrass concert these days, it’s an experience. After a three-hour show, I’ll stand there and meet and greet every person that stays after the show. I’ve become friends with these people, these fans of mine from around the world. I followed my heart and I still do. It’s about doing the right thing, and sometimes that right thing might not be popular or might hurt you career wise, but I would never make a decision that would be detrimental to my family — it’s about integrity.

SMN: And you’ve always stuck to your guns, which is something I’ve always admired about your career.

RV: I did a couple of country albums early on, and I feel 100 percent that’s why that career path of mine didn’t take off in country was because they sent me some songs with sexual innuendos and drinking. So, I called them right up and said I would never sing those songs they chose. [In the music industry], they want young people who don’t have their own thought process, to sign whatever and do whatever to become a star. I just didn’t come from a place like that, I came from a family band. What they’re selling is a product, and that was my biggest disappointment in coming to Nashville — it’s a business and a product. For me, I take all those aspects of being an artist and having integrity and make that into my own product.

 

Want to go?

Bluegrass superstars Rhonda Vincent & The Rage, Ricky Skaggs & Kentucky Thunder and Dailey & Vincent will hit the stage at the Cherokee Bluegrass Festival June 4-6 at the Happy Holiday RV Village and Campground.

Other acts include Gene Watson, Goldwing Express, The James King Band, Darin & Brooke Aldridge, Flatt Lonesome, The Crowe Brothers, and many more. 

Three-day passes are $90 in advance, $95 at the gate. Daily advance tickets are $35, $40 at the gate. Children three-day passes are $45, $15 per day for ages 7-13. Children under age 7 are admitted free with adult. 

www.adamsbluegrass.com/cherokee_bluegrass_festival.html or 706.864.7203.

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