Tuesday, July 03, 2007

All-American bluegrass girl

The highlight of my quick visit to Grass Valley was Rhonda Vincent--not her main stage set, which I found to be a bit too, well, stagey, but the open jam she held with fans after her Thursday night show.

Part of what makes bluegrass festivals so much fun is that the artists are so accessible. Even so, I was truly amazed by how much time Vincent spent trading songs with her admirers, and by how much she genuinely seemed to be enjoying herself.

During her set, she told the audience she would be available for a jam in "the Martha White boutique," the tent where Vincent's CDs and other merchandise was for sale. I figured it was really a way to sell more product, but later I found that she and fiddler Hunter Berry were more interested in making music than they were in vending their stuff.

Among the cluster of fans who crowded around with their fiddles, banjos, guitars and mandolins were a half dozen young ones, ranging from maybe six years old to 12 or so. The first thing I noticed about them was that most of them were quite good pickers, and that they familiar with many of the bluegrass standards that were played.

What came across next was how much Vincent related to them. Of course, Vincent started her own career as a child performer, playing mandolin and singing in her family band when she was eight.

With these kids, she took the time to speak to each one and then let them take the lead while she chopped chords on her mandolin. After a few rounds of "Old Joe Clark" and "Angeline The Baker," one little girl stepped to the center of the circle and belted out a version of Vincent's autobiographical "All-American Bluegrass Girl." When she finished, Rhonda set down her mandolin and hugged the child, swinging her around in a warm embrace.

Vincent's rapport with fans also came through in her support for the California Bluegrass Association, which ran the festival. A year ago, when the CBA was deep in the throes of a financial crisis, Rhonda had donated for auction a dress that she had recently worn on stage while accepting the IBMA award for best female vocalist.

It turned out that the buyer of the dress had since re-donated it to the organization to be auctioned a second time. So Vincent got a chance to show it off for the audience and make a further appeal on behalf of the CBA.

I may find that Rhonda Vincent's stage banter can seem somewhat over-rehearsed, but her rapport with the bluegrass audience is nothing but genuine.

1 comment:

Darby Brandli said...

Rhonda Vincent is a good friend to the fans and the organizations who support bluegrass music. Not only did she donate a dress but she volunteered to put on a benefit concert for the California Bluegrass Association last spring in Sacramento when she heard we were having financial difficulties. Rhonda is a class act....and the real deal. Thanks for the lovely review of our Father's Day event and of one of this year's headliners. Darby Brandli, President, California Bluegrass Association

p.s. The Huck Finn Festival in SoCal and Father's Day Festival in Grass Valley often book the same acts for the Father's Day weekend. We are a long way (a continent away) from the Atlantic seaboard and, by partnering, can introduce BIG acts from the East to audiences in Northern and Southern California. Don Tucker (Huck Finn) is also a class act.