Rhonda Vincent: 40 and Fan-Wise

Bluegrass queen Rhonda Vincent celebrated her 40th birthday Thursday night (July 11) with a party at Nashville’s fabled Ernest Tubb Record Shop. The celebration, which was open to all, followed Vincent’s show at the nearby Ryman Auditorium.

Fans began gathering for the party around 9:30 p.m. and had packed the room by the time Vincent arrived just over two hours later. While they were waiting, the partygoers swarmed around the three birthday cakes. One cake simulated a Martha White Blueberry Muffin Mix package with Vincent’s picture on it (Martha White is Vincent’s tour sponsor); another showed her tour bus; and the largest was decorated with a likeness of her face. Seven rows of alternating red and white balloons arched over the room.

Vincent wore for the occasion a black, form-fitting, knee-length black dress with a deeply scooped neckline. Before she cut the cake, she accepted birthday presents. Her fan club president, Julia Yocum, presented her a replica of a 4-by-8-feet road sign that will be posted at the city limits announcing that Greentop, Mo., is Vincent’s hometown. Representatives from Martha White gave her a large, framed black-and-white photo of the Ryman Auditorium, taken in 1946 and showing a crowd lined up for the Grand Ole Opry. A fan sent her a framed poem he had written called “Story of a Songbird.”

After sampling one of the cakes, Vincent stood and received her guests, who had arranged themselves politely into a long line. She gave and autographed for each one a photo of herself as a toddler and posed for pictures with all who wanted them. Most did. Then they were ushered on to the cake table. Known for her closeness to fans, she greeted many by name. “All the way from England!” she exclaimed as one well-wisher approached. “You know, we’re going to be in your area,” she told another longtime admirer who had driven in from New Jersey.

At 12:15 a.m., Vincent joined her band on the tiny stage behind the cake table and invited anyone who wished to sing with her to come forward. Dalton Crist of Taylor, Mich., was the first to accept her invitation. Visibly shaken by the proximity, he nonetheless managed to harmonize pleasantly with her on “When My Sweet Love Ain’t Around.”

Urged on by his companion, Thomas Clark, of Kansas City, Mo., next took the stage. After assuring Vincent that he knew all her songs, he settled on “I’m Not Over You” and straightaway took the lead. “This guy sings high!” said Vincent approvingly.

The last of the guest acts was the Bobby Darren Country Show, a trio from Kaukauna, Wis. Clearly primed for the moment, the trio sang their own choices — “Medals for Mothers” and “All We Have for You Mom (Is a Rose)” — as Vincent and her band dutifully strummed along.

Vincent, whose actual birthday is July 13, tried to end the set with her current single, “Drivin’ Nails in My Coffin,” but the crowd insisted on more. She obliged by fan-testing a country song she said she is considering for her next album. Judging from the audience’s reaction to it, “The Corner of Walk/Don’t Walk” is a sure winner. Finally, at 12:45 a.m., the band wrapped up Vincent’s party with “Shenandoah Waltz.”

David McCormick, genial owner of the Ernest Tubb Record Shops, presided over the evening’s festivities.

Edward Morris is a veteran of country music journalism. He lives in Nashville, Tennessee, and is a frequent contributor to CMT.com.