>Bluegrass at the Ryman: Rhonda Vincent & the Rage, Bobby Oscbourne and the Rocky Top Express, Next Big Thing

>Thursday evening, I heard the third in this years “Bluegrass Nights at the Ryman” series for the year. It was the return of one of my favorites, Rhonda Vincent and the Rage along with Bobby Osbourne and the Rocky Top Express and new group, Next Big Thing.

Starting the show was Next Big Thing, a younger group that was OK, but I still think they’re finding their voice. It was one of the few bluegrass groups I’ve seen play that didn’t include a mandolin on a majority of their songs. Their best song was a trio performing “I Come To the Garden.” The blend of voices between the Sanker sisters and the male portion of the trio was nicely done and the strongest portion of their set. The rest was good, but not among my favorite portions of the evening.

As for Rhonda Vincent, I liked her show, but it was cut a bit short. Vincent is great, but she often features new acts in the bluegrass world, meaning that her time can be cut a bit. Or maybe it’s that I’ve seen her the past four seasons and I’m starting to get used to the show. There are a couple of favorites that make it every year into the set and she weaves in the newer stuff–especially if she has a new album out. I found myself wishing we could here “Jolene” and “Ghost of Chance.” Maybe she did them in the encore (which ran long and we had to leave). Perhaps I’ll follow the example of some of those who attended and send her a request via her web site next year.

That left the middle act as my favorite of the evening. Heading into the concert, I figured that any group that featured “Rocky Top” in their name and featured one of the two guys who gave us one of the greatest songs in the history of the universe, we’d get to hear “Rocky Top” at least once. Then when Bobby came on stage in an orange sport coat ala Bruce Pearl, I knew we’d hear at some point. Wisely, they left it until the end so you can go out on a high note. Before that, we heard a lot of great songs, a mixtures of old and new. One highlight was their version of the John Denver song, “Country Roads.”

And then, we got to the end and what Osbourne called “the greatest Christmas present” ever. Seems that “Rocky Top” was released on Christmas in 1967 and the world hasn’t been the same since. We heard it and it was…well, the highlight of the evening for me.

And it helped remind me (as if I needed it) that God’s sport will soon be back with us….

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