Rhonda Vincent Christmas in Branson, and the lure of Hollywood

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Bluegrass music, and the people who play it, has always been a source for wonderful stories. Even our biggest celebrities live pretty close to normal lives, so they face the same life struggles we all do, but sometimes these challenges occur on the tour bus instead of at your child’s school.

This week was set to be a major milestone for Rhonda Vincent. She headed yesterday for Branson, MO to announce big news about her upcoming Christmas show, and was psyched to head down to Nashville today to indulge every little girl’s dream, to be a movie star!

But let me back up a bit…

Like everyone in the entertainment business, Rhonda and her business partner, husband Herb Sandker, spent a lot of time ruminating this summer about what they could do to make up for lost income from the cancellation of all festivals and concerts since March. They not only wanted to keep her award-winning band, The Rage, intact and ready for when shows returned, but they began to have concerns about covering their own personal expenses as well.

“There were times when Herb and I looked at each other and said, ‘We are going to have to get regular jobs again if this keeps up,’ said Vincent. “So we knew we had to come up with a plan.”

In the end, they decided to stick with the ‘go big or go home’ philosophy that has served them so well since the couple took over complete management of her career some years ago. All the booking, recording, music distribution, and management decisions are made in house, so whatever they would come up with would have to come from them.

Thinking of the success they had over the years with Christmas shows, they elected to go for broke and booked the Andy Williams Moon River Theatre in Branson for most of November and December, where they will be promoting a string of 37 concerts over the holiday season. And we are talking every day, during the busy Christmas season in this major midwestern tourist destination.

Rhonda will appear each day with The Rage, featuring music from her two Christmas CDs, along with other favorite holiday songs. Guest stars will also be involved, including country stars Jeanie Seely, Moe Bandy, John Berry, T Graham Brown, Mark Willis, Wilson Fairchild, and Mo Pitney on various dates.

She and Herb are promoting all of this through their Upper Management Music company, paying for the theater and all the advertising and promotion costs, and the fees for the other entertainers on the bill.

“It really is make or break for us,” she tells us. “Either we make up much of the deficit from being off for six months, or we are broke.”

Fortunately, Missouri as a whole has escaped much of the wrath of COVID-19, and the region around her home and in Branson, have seen very few cases of the disease. Theaters are open there now, with some social-distancing measures in play, but Vincent says even the masking requirements are set to expire in a few weeks.

And with so many people in the US enduring a pent up desire to get out and do things again, with the long history of Christmas attractions there in Branson, it seems likely that this Rhonda Vincent Christmas in Branson residency will be a big hit. Shows will run from November 10 until December 20 at the 3,000 seat Moon River Theatre, which will operate at a reduced capacity.

Rhonda says that the undertaking is a bit daunting, but she is excited to see it coming together. “This is the most costly venture Herb and I have ever attempted. And we still have to complete a script, write skits, build sets, and put a full show together in just a few weeks time!”

Full details about the shows, including a schedule of guest stars and ticket information, can be found on the Andy Williams Theatre web site.

But wait a minute… wasn’t there something about being in a movie?

Rhonda says that she got a call one day out of the blue from a man putting a film together for Netflix. “He said he wanted to use my recording of You Don’t Love God if You Don’t Love Your Neighbor in the movie, but found that a synch license for film use was too high. Then he told me, ‘My dream is to have you in my movie,’ and asked for a list of songs I could do that would be in that same Gospel style. So I sent him a list of songs, and he selected one of my daughter Sally’s songs.”

So she and the band recorded a version of the song in an old time Gospel style, using the three-finger guitar, with an arrangement similar to You Don’t Love God, and he loved it. You’ll notice that we aren’t mentioning any names here. There really is a movie, but Rhonda didn’t want to use any names, of the film or the producer she has been working with, since the project hasn’t yet been officially announced publicly.

But as it happens, she and the band were scheduled to shoot their scene for the film today. They were to be shot performing the song in a church, and Vincent was plenty psyched.

“The plan was for the bus to pick me up in Branson and take me down to Nashville for the shoot. I had finally let myself get really excited once the day was set, and was thinking, ‘This is so cool… I’m going to be in a movie!’”

But then another Sally intervened. While she was on the bus heading for Nashville yesterday afternoon, the producer called to say that flooding on the set from the hurricane rains had washed everything out, and they couldn’t proceed with the next day’s plans.

“I was on my way down to Nashville when he called, and on a big high emotionally from the announcement of my Christmas in Branson residency. It was a bit of a shock, so I told the driver to just take me home, and he could head on his way back to Nashville. But last night, instead of disappointment, I was so at peace with whatever God’s plan is for me. It still could happen, but it might not, and I am OK with whichever way it goes.”

With so many schedules involved, the only chance they have is if everyone can make a rescheduled shoot next Tuesday, but her version of Sally’s song will be included one way or the other.

The plot of the film follows a true story about a real life preacher, and will include a good deal of bluegrass content, with some other popular artists involved that we all know well. Vincent promises that we will all be blown away when the news can finally be shared, so keep an eye out for that in the near future. But the release of the movie is at least a year away.

What kept Rhonda grounded after getting the news that her star turn in the movies might not happen was her realization that, given what this year has meant for so many people in music, hers was actually pretty good. “2020 has been a horrible year for most people,” she said, “but for me it’s been incredible. I was invited to join the Opry, which I honestly never thought would happen. And I have this residency coming up. Even if I don’t get to appear in the movies, it’s been a good year.”

Ironically, given the cancelled shoot today, her music and her voice will definitely be featured in a film this year, The Farmer and the Belle, a Christmas movie coming later this season.

“On November 17, the soundtrack comes out. I am singing a song called Santaland as a duet with Justin Peters, in a call and answer style. It’s a different type of style from anything I ever sung on before, more of a show tune. I’m singing unison with Justin, which is a whole different thing than what we do in bluegrass.”

So for Rhonda Vincent, a career in the movies may not be in the cards, but she’s taking it all in stride.

“I’m heading to the festival this weekend in Conway, MO to see Danny Paisley.”

Life goes on.

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