Saturday dawned cloudy and overcast with a more than a little hint of rain in the air. It was comfortably cool and, after the great Friday night we had had, the Saturday crowd was ready for more. We arrived at the Rockadome as the opening band was getting started, prepared for a good day.
Sweet Brenda Lawson and Rhonda Vincent
Join Highway 249 for a Chorus of
Hunter Berry of The Rage & Fan
The Grass Cats
Tim Woodall & Chris Hill
As often happens when Rhonda Vincent & the Rage appear at a festival, the Martha White Express appeared some time during the night, as if by magic. The night before, they had appeared at the Renfro Valley Entertainment Center (551 miles to the West) and would appear the next day at a Kroger's Grocery Store opening in Carolton, GA (604 miles to the Southwest). Despite the rigors of this kind of marathon travel schedule, Rhonda Vincent appeared fresh and filled with energy for two sets, appeared briefly singing a chorus of Wagon Wheel with the opening band, signed until the last fan left between sets, took time to help care for a musician who suddenly was stricken by a panic attack, and took time to host Irene and me inside the bus for a fifteen minute or so conversation (interview). It's not rare to hear people speak of her as "the hardest working person in bluegrass," and this is true. It's also true that she's one of the most talented, able, and effective business people touring anywhere. She keeps her eye on the ball, is clear-sighted and realistic about her talent and appeal, and seems genuinely to enjoy the time she spends with her many fans. Watch her work at the Martha White Boutique some time. She never seems hurried as she smiles, signs, and poses with fans of all ages, sizes, and genders, always giving her full attention to the person she's with, so that person leaves with the sense that they've had a genuine moment with her. She smiles and seemingly recognizes individuals whom she's met before. It's a remarkable, and genuine, performance that accomplishes the neat trick of appealing to many men because of her appearance while still enjoying women, and attracting legions of young girls to her as a role model. Each Rhonda Vincent & the Rage performance is at least slightly different, as the band does not work from a set list. Rhonda gauges the audience and selects the next song as she moves through her time.
Kaczor did an excellent job filling in for Josh Williams, who left the road for a few days for the birth of his daughter. Kaczor, known mostly as a southern gospel performer, had played briefly with Vincent before, and fit comfortably into what cannot be an easy position. Good job!
Hunter Berry has been with Rhonda for about nine years and is married to her daughter Sally. The couple both teach at East Tennessee State University, which goes to some length to employ top level performers as adjunct professors in its bluegrass and traditional music degree programs. Hunter has also become increasingly central in a role of comic foil for Rhonda. His good nature and sense of humor shine through, while his supple fiddle play is always excellent.
Aaron McDaris first attracted national attention when the band he was playing in won the SPBGMA band competition. He subsequently toured with New Tradition before joining the Larry Stephenson Band and later touring with the Grascals. He joined Rhonda Vincent about four years ago, where he has become a mainstay because of his fine banjo play as well as his versatility. In addition to playing guitar on songs not well suited to even his subtle banjo play, Aaron has been heard singing harmony more frequently these days.