In bluegrass music circles, no question is asked more consistently that some variation of, “What’s going on with Tony Rice?”
Followers of his music reacted with immediate generosity in 2013 when an appeal went out for financial support when he was unable to perform, and reaction to his stirring speech (in his natural voice) when inducted into the IBMA’s Bluegrass Hall of Fame in September of that year demonstrated the hold Rice has on the imagination and heart of the bluegrass community.
Pretty much everyone in our world has at least wondered one or twice how Tony was doing with both his speech therapy and the arm and hand problems that were preventing him from playing the guitar. The notoriously private Rice clan hasn’t been offering much information.
But fortunately, the Greensboro, NC News & Record’s Dawn DeCwikiel-Kane caught up with Tony when he was in Eden over the weekend to accept a Lifetime Achievement Award at the annual Charlie Poole Music Festival.
She asked the question that has had all of bluegrass buzzing this past two years…
Rice said he aims to return to performing, but he isn’t sure when.
“My father had a saying, ‘When you don’t know what to do, don’t do anything,’ ” he said.
“So many of my jazz heroes, they reached that point where they had to take a few years off,” he added. “Their bodies were worn out from the road and so much work. … When I read that other musical heroes were having to do the same thing in their life, having to take a long hiatus for various reasons, then I don’t feel so bad.
“But I am not going to go back out into the public eye until I can be the musician that I was, where I left off or better,” Rice said. “I have been blessed with a very devout audience all these years, and I am certainly not going to let anybody down. I am not going to risk going out there and performing in front of people again until I can entertain them in a way that takes away from them the rigors and the dust, the bumps in the road of everyday life.”
So… still no definitive answer, but a very hopeful sign for those of us who miss seeing Tony Rice on the stage where he was meant to appear.
All Rice fans should want to read the entire article, which is available on the News & Record’s web site.