In 2010 the Greater Downstate Indoor Bluegrass Festival hosted by Terry and Jan Lease celebrates 24 years of bringing the finest bluegrass music to central Illinois. After the success of their first indoor bluegrass festival in 1986, Terry and Jan kept at it, organizing about 200 events over their many years of festival promoting.
This is a big one for the Leases. As is the case with many of their festivals, it not only presents some of the best talent performing today, but also includes picking places for fans who come to play as well as listen, performance workshops hosted by stellar musicians and trade shows for swapping instruments and gear. They’ve booked the greats of old such as Ralph Stanley, Wilma Lee Cooper, Jimmy Martin, the Osborn Brothers and John Hartford, plus those of the current generation including Alison Krauss and Union Station, The Dillards, Claire Lynch, Special Consensus, Cherryholmes and one of the most popular and celebrated bluegrass performers on the scene today, Rhonda Vincent and her band, the Rage.
Born into a professional music making family in northern Missouri, Vincent’s life revolves around music, specifically country and bluegrass styles. Her parents hosted the long-running Sally Mountain Show, her brother is one half of the successful bluegrass duo Daily and Vincent, her daughters Sally and Tensel are a working act called Next Best Thing and her son-in-law plays in the Rage. It’s all a part of living, like breathing and eating and sleeping to the Vincents, as they travel through life as performers, entertainers and ambassadors of classic Americana music.
“Music has been a way of life for me. I grew up in a musical family performing from the age of five,” said Vincent. “We love what we do and that makes it easy to do it.”
With a steady touring schedule through 11 months of the year, two Grammy Awards, numerous International Bluegrass Music Association (IBMA) awards including Entertainer of the Year and seven-time Female Vocalist of the Year and several albums released on major labels (Taken, the most recent was self-produced and released on her Upper Management imprint in 2010), she makes it look easy, but there is a tremendous amount of labor and dedication that goes along with the early start and inherent talent. That work ethic and her belief in the transformative power of music and the wonderment of creativity seem to drive her boundless muse.
“We’re creating the music as we go and appreciate the authenticity in bluegrass not always found in other types of music. That’s a discovery audiences can make hearing bluegrass,” she said. “Other music is great, but bluegrass embraces everyone of all ages and appearances and I think that’s the wonderful thing about it.”
When explaining the strength of acoustic music by way of a concert anecdote, I could hear the awe and respect in her voice for what she does and how it reaches and touches individuals for the greater good.
“Recently we played a show where the electricity went off and we went down into the crowd to finish the performance,” she said. “There were too many people for everyone to hear us playing so we started singing ‘Amazing Grace’ and the whole crowd joined in together. It was beautiful.”
In discussing her future in the music business, Rhonda mentioned following in the footsteps of Kitty Wells, the pioneering country music star from the 50s who still performs now and then at age 91.
“I don’t ever see myself retiring,” Vincent said. “I love my life. It’s what I do.”
Contact Tom Irwin at firstname.lastname@example.org.