Review and photographs by Andrzej Pilarczyk
She can sing.
She can write songs.
And she can really play.
Boy, can she play!
Rhonda Vincent’s fingers flew across her mandolin’s fretboard with the speed of a hummingbird’s wings as she and her band, the Rage, picked two set of incredible bluegrass music at the Cohoes Music Hall on Friday night.
It’s been quite a while since the hall hosted a concert by world-class musicians. The last time was when the Eighth Step took up a two-year residency there in the early-2000s with Gregg Brown, Patty Larkin and John Herald among other folk music luminaries who entertained on the stage of the balconied, 100-plus-year-old building.
This time out country and bluegrass star Rhonda Vincent & the Rage performed as part of a Rotary Club International fundraiser for Rotary District 7190’s Gift of Life Program.
Opening up the evening’s events was regional teen bluegrass-sensation, Dorothy Jane Siver and her family band.
Playing the fiddle and singing up a storm, Siver delivered a fun, 45-minute set full of great picking, smiles and insider-band laughs in the company of her dad Ron and mother Jennifer, who provided the group’s rhythmic anchor on upright bass and guitar, respectively. Time and again, the audience applauded the sparkling and lightning-fast solos Silver exchanged with mandolinst Tom Benson and banjo maven Deane Lewis.
After the intermission, Rhonda Vincent walked on stage, and the musical fireworks exploded, as she played a mix of some bluegrass chestnuts and original tunes. Joining Vincent on stage were a couple of “green-horns” – Brent Burke on dobro (just graduated college with a degree in bluegrass music) and Ben Helson playing acoustic guitar (a former Ricky Skaggs sideman straight out of college a few short years ago) – in addition to seasoned bluegrass veterans – fiddler Hunter Berry, bassist Mickey Harris and banjoist Aaron McDaris.
Virtuosic sparks flew as Vincent and her bandmates fired off impassioned solos, sang intricate, high-mountain harmonies and brought big fun to the Cohoes Music Hall. It wasn’t all about the solos, either, as the songs also took flight with some amazing ensemble playing.
“I see some old friends out in the audience. Michelle, is that you?,” Vincent asked. A voice in the audience shouted out, “Yes, Rhonda, it’s me!” Vincent shot back, “Is Candy with you?”
Of course, Candy was there, and so were lots of others. People came out to the Cohoes Music Hall from far and wide. While most in attedance were from the immediate Capital Region, others drove in from Massachusetts and Syracuse. But the unifying factor was that they all came out to see Rhonda Vincent and the Rage, and no one seemed disappointed in the least.
A seven-time Female Vocalist of the Year award winner from the International Bluesgrass Music Association, Vincent may be the Queen of Bluegrass, but she’s down to earth and accessible to her fans. Who else would greet friends from the stage and make the room feel like a parlor concert?
She’s also appeared at the Grand Ole Opry more than 130 times. A she can hold her own with country music stars like Dolly Parton and Gene Watson, who have both collaborated with her on her latest albums. Not bad for a woman who dedicated herself to the bluegrass art-form as a youth and who realized her dream as an adult with, now, college-aged children.
There’s no stopping her.