Rhonda Vincent won the entertainer of the year trophy at the 40th annual Society for the Preservation of Blue Grass Music of America awards show held Sunday night (Feb. 2) at the Sheraton Music City hotel in Nashville.
Earlier in the evening, Vincent was presented SPBGMA's highest honor -- membership in the organization's Preservation Hall of Greats.
Vincent and her band, the Rage, also won the instrumental group of the year prize. Two of the bandmembers, Mickey Harris and Josh Williams, copped prizes as best bassist and best guitarist, respectively.
It was a triumphant night overall for the Vincent family. Dailey & Vincent, the duo comprised of Jamie Dailey and Rhonda's younger brother, Darrin Vincent, marched away with the best contemporary gospel group and best vocal group awards. Dailey was voted best contemporary male vocalist, as well.
In spite of a cold, relentless rain and the prospect of hazardous driving conditions after the show ended, several hundred people who were in town for the annual SPBGMA convention flocked to the hotel's grand ballroom to witness the event.
There, in addition to watching the awards being handed out, they saw performances by Vincent, Dailey & Vincent, the Grascals, the Gibson Brothers, Randy Waller & the Country Gentlemen, Nothin' Fancy and Rarely Herd. Each group played sets of four to eight songs.
Members of Rarely Herd hosted the event and periodically delivered news of the Super Bowl, which was being played concurrently.
Vincent's acceptance speech for her Hall of Greats induction was a veritable hymn to the show business work ethic -- a value imparted to her, she said, by her bluegrass playing parents, Johnny and Carolyn Vincent, who were inducted into the Hall of Greats in 2007.
The elder Vincents drafted Rhonda into their Sally Mountain Show troupe when she was just 5 years old. She started on drums.
The 51-year-old singer-mandolinist-bandleader recalled when she and her family were playing Silver Dollar City in Branson, Mo., doing five one-hour shows a day and rushing off to festivals on weekends.
She said on one particularly rainy day in Branson, the Vincents looked out from the stage and saw not one person there to watch them.
The kids suggested leaving the stage until the rain stopped and an audience gathered. That was not Johnny Vincent's way, his daughter observed. "He said we were being paid to play, and we were going to play." And they did.
The next week, the Vincents got a call from Hal Durham, then manager of the Grand Ole Opry. He and his wife has been in Branson to check out the talent there, and he had been "around the corner" listening to the Vincents as they played spiritedly to an empty house.
He was so impressed by their music and tenacity, he invited them to appear on the Opry, a career milestone for Rhonda, who would later win The Nashville Network's You Can Be a Star talent contest and an invitation to work with Opry star Jim Ed Brown.
"I learned that no matter who you think is listening," she told the SPBGMA crowd, "you always do your best."
She mentioned in passing that her two daughters are now married to members of her band -- Sally to fiddler Hunter Berry and Tensel to Dobro player Brent Burke. She joked she was going to have to adopt a couple of other daughters to keep more of her band in the family.
The evening was awash with memorable music. Nothin' Fancy added another timeless song to the bluegrass and country coal-mining canon, a grim and fatalistic piece called "Darkness and Dirt."
The Gibson Brothers, fresh from their second win as the International Bluegrass Music Association's entertainer of the year, spun out such of their recent hits as "Help My Brother" and the lofty "They Called It Music."
The Grascals introduced their new fiddler, Adam Haynes, and, with their usual zest, brought new energy to such old favorites as Flatt & Scruggs' "I'll Go Steppin' Too" and Waylon Jennings "Only Daddy That'll Walk the Line."
But the real show-stopper in the Grascals' set came when mandolinist Danny Roberts' 12-year-old daughter Jaelee moved confidently to the mic and, in a voice twice her size, filled the room with "How Great Thou Art." It earned her a standing ovation.
Roberts said the song will appear on his forthcoming solo album.
Randy Waller, who is slowly emerging from the shadow cast by his robust-singing father, the late Charlie Waller, led the current edition of the Country Gentlemen in a short set that ranged from the CG mainstay, "Waltz of the Angels" through the bluegrass weeper, "Little Bessie," to a retread of the Marshall Tucker Band's "This Ol' Cowboy."
Vincent was, as ever, in top form for her performance, piloting the band through "Busy City," "It's Never Too Late" and "Beneath Still Waters," all selections from her new two-CD album, Only Me.
Rarely Herd gave smooth performances of Eddy Arnold's stately "Make the World Go Away" and Judy Marshall's reverent "I Just Want to Thank You Lord."
Even after the last award had been announced, the crowd waited patiently for Dailey & Vincent to wrap up the proceedings. And it was worth the wait.
Opening with the rousing "Cumberland River," the band moved on without between-songs patter to "Me and My Heart and My Shoes," a sweeping rendition of the Wilburn Brothers' "Arkansas" and a rafter-shaking instrumental titled "Yee Haw Junction."
As rabid fans of the Statler Brothers (to whose music they devoted an entire album), Dailey & Vincent kept the beat lively with a faithful cover of the Statler's "Flowers on the Wall."
The set -- and the evening -- ended with an a cappella quartet rendering of the hymn, "Wonderful Grace of Jesus."
Here is the complete list of winners:
SPBGMA Preservation Hall of Greats: Rhonda Vincent
Entertainer of the year: Rhonda Vincent
Song: "They Called It Music," written by Eric Gibson and Joe Newberry; recorded by the Gibson Brothers
Album: In a Country Town, the Farm Hands
Songwriter: Tom T. and Dixie Hall
Female vocalist (contemporary): Sonya Isaacs
Female vocalist (traditional): Dale Ann Bradley
Male vocalist (contemporary): Jamie Dailey
Male vocalist (traditional): James King
Gospel group (contemporary): Dailey & Vincent
Gospel group (traditional): Paul Williams & the Victory Trio
Vocal group: Dailey & Vincent
Instrumental group: Rhonda Vincent & the Rage
Bluegrass band (overall): Junior Sisk & Ramblers Choice
Entertaining group: Nothin' Fancy
Instrumental winners: Mickey Harris (bass), Tim Graves (Dobro), Josh Williams (guitar), Danny Roberts (mandolin), Sammy Shelor (banjo), Michael Cleveland (fiddle)
Promoter: Bertie Sullivan
Radio station: Sirius XM 61
Disc jockey: Kyle Cantrell, Sirius XM 61