I’ve been known to enjoy a little bluegrass music now and again.
And, thankfully so do Laura Robb and her friends Monica Paull and Raymond “Heavy” McNish. These three representatives of the Smith-Cotton High School Class of ‘65 were my guests for the Rhonda Vincent and The Rage concert on Wednesday.
They grew up and traveled through Sedalia’s school system together and these proud Tigers insisted that I mention their graduating class.
I connected with them at the Confederate Railroad concert that was going on in the Budweiser Tent before we went over to the Pepsi Grandstand. We had to leave one song early in order to make our appointment with a certain bluegrass songstress and a camera.
But there was a slight problem: Rhonda Vincent’s people were prepared for four but we had brought five because we had picked up a temporary photographer: Democrat reporter Matthew Steingraber.
Phone calls were made and soon we were cleared to go backstage. And as we traveled backstage, I realized one thing: McNish, who absolutely insisted on being called Heavy when Steingraber wrote down his name, had a significant amount of pull with the people who run the labor-intensive machine that is the Pepsi Grandstand.
I was downright jealous of the influence that Heavy exerted. As the media host for the night, I guess I should have been the one greeting the members of the backstage and grandstand crews, but Heavy has been working at the Budweiser Tent for years and all the veteran workers at the Missouri State Fair know and respect him.
As we sat and waited for the show, we discussed the accuracy of a comment that Vincent made when we talked shortly before the picture was taken. Was this really the first time that bluegrass had been featured at the Pepsi Grandstand? How could that be true? We also talked about a variety of other topics, including The Ozark Mountain Music Festival and “O Brother, Where Art Thou.”
The contest winner and her guests were excited, though I couldn’t get them to qualify their excitement in any sort of way. They were just plain excited, the normal kind of excited.
The Next Best Thing, which was a band that consisted of some of the youngest performing members of Vincent’s extensive bluegrass family, was the first act up. I think my favorite song was their cover of “Take it to the Limit.” I might never get to see the Eagles at the Missouri State Fair, but a cover is pretty good, too.
The girls and I sang along. Heavy — not so much.
The grandstand was sparsely populated and they hadn’t even bothered to set up all of the usual track seats. Despite the fact that the Missouri State Fair had attempted to promote the concert by dedicating a whole day to bluegrass music, it seemed that there just weren’t a whole lot of people that were willing to pay extra for it.
But my guests were having a great time. “Just wonderful,” said Paull when TNBT wrapped up their set.
“Now that’s bluegrass!” she exclaimed a few seconds into Dailey and Vincent’s rendition of “Going to Georgia.” Their gospel-heavy set featured some serious instrumentals but the centerpiece was their multi-part harmonies.
Bass singer Joe Dean Jr. had such a deep voice that it made us laugh when we first heard it — not because it was bad, far from it — but because it wasn’t something we expected from someone like that. His voice was Mariana Trench deep. That depth added quite a dynamic flair to the band’s harmonies.
The stage lights that faced the audience seemed particularly intense and they were particularly fond of turning them on, and I was forced to act as something of a popcorn bucket middleman, but nothing could get in the way of our good time.
“They were awesome,” insisted Paull, just a few seconds before she revealed something else: “My butt is numb.”
“I enjoyed it,” said Heavy, “That was some very good music.”
“It was wonderful,” said Robb, echoing Paull’s response to the first band.
But we were here to see Rhonda Vincent and The Rage and we did just that: The strings were plucked expertly and the notes were nearly perfect. Vincent told us the story of her musical family through old standards and new hits and she was beaming about finally playing the Pepsi Grandstand.
Eventually it all had to end, much to the chagrin of audience and artist alike. The verdict soon came in: Rhonda Vincent and The Rage had brought it.
“On a scale of 1 to 10, that was an 11,” insisted Robb.
“She lived her dream and we got to watch it,” reflected Heavy, “We definitely would have bought our own tickets.”
Good times were had by all and we split ways before we even left the grandstand. Maybe I should have went with them: I can only imagine that they were headed for an old fashioned good time.
“I’m glad we went. I’m glad Laura won,” said Paull.
Robb succinctly summed up the evening:
“It was fun.”