Bluegrass fans in southwest Virginia were in for a treat this past Saturday night (March 15) when the Martha White Bluegrass Express pulled into the small town of Hurley. Rhonda Vincent and the Rage delivered an excellent concert filled with the powerful bluegrass, Gospel, and classic country sounds they are so well known for.
The show, which took place at Hurley High School, began with Mountain Fever artists Jeff Brown and Still Lonesome, a great new group based out of southwestern Virginia. Brown recently formed his own band after spending time over the past few decades playing with Larry Sparks, Ralph Stanley, and Charlie Sizemore, among others. Still Lonesome has a fine modern traditional sound and offered listeners a nice mixture of new songs from their debut album, Blue Side of Me, and updated covers of bluegrass classics. The band even previewed a few numbers they hope to include on a new album, due to be released later this year.
Among the standout songs of their set were a fiery version of These Old Blues and a pair of songs written about Hurley and the surrounding area –The Water and the Mud and Little Country Town. The writer of the latter song, local boy Randall Hibbitts (who is also the current bass player for Ralph Stanley and the Clinch Mountain Boys), joined Brown on stage for a couple of songs to close out the set.
The Queen of Bluegrass then took the stage for a rousing hour-and-a-half set that had the crowd on their feet several times. Vincent delivered powerhouse versions of several of the songs from her brand-new album, Only Me, including a fantastic version of the title track. While the song is a duet with Willie Nelson on the album, Vincent joked that so far, Nelson has failed to show up to sing his part during a live show. Other highlights from the new record included the George Jones hit When the Grass Grows Over Me and It’s Never Too Late, a Gospel number with a strong message penned by Haley Stiltner.
The Rage was in fine form, as usual, and each band member took a turn in the spotlight during the show. Hurley is located right in the middle of coal-mining country, which made dobro player Brent Burke’s Girl from West Virginia a hit with the crowd. Josh Williams offered up an enjoyable version of the old standard Walkin’ Down the Line, while Aaron McDaris’ banjo picking was top-notch on an excellent rendition of John Henry.
Rhonda Vincent and the Rage put on one of the best live shows in bluegrass today, and they certainly didn’t disappoint while in Hurley. Added to the strong set from Jeff Brown and Still Lonesome, the evening was surely a delight for bluegrass fans.