Vince Gill believes bluegrass music “can rock as hard as the Rolling Stones when it's done right.”
“There's something about the sound of it and whatever it is that it does (that) I've always been drawn to. I think just the power of those instruments playing together and how much they need each other. It's really remarkable to watch a great bluegrass band play together ... and it's interesting in that everything has a place and a purpose and a need. And when it really gels, man, it's awesome like a great car going down the road,” Gill said in a phone interview last month from his home in Nashville, Tenn.
Back in June, the Country Music Hall of Famer, 55, gathered some of the top players in the genre and embarked on a short bluegrass tour.
He will assemble another group of stellar musicians to headline the Oklahoma International Bluegrass Festival on Saturday in Guthrie.
The three-day festival opens Thursday and will showcase a variety of acoustic sounds, from traditional bluegrass and Western swing to folk and cowboy music. Along with a full lineup of performers, the event will include a random band jam, youth competitions and workshops.
For Gill, who was born in Norman and grew up in Oklahoma City, Saturday's headlining set will mark his third time to play the festival.
He performed at the inaugural event in 1997 and played a return engagement there in 2002.
While he always relishes playing in his home state, coming back to the bluegrass fest also will give Gill the chance to reunite with internationally acclaimed fiddler Byron Berline, who founded and organizes the event.
“Byron'll probably get up and play with us, so it'll be fun,” Gill said.
“I owe Byron a lot. You know, he gave me a great opportunity when I was a kid. Nineteen years old, he got me out to the West Coast and Southern California and it was a life-changing experience for me.”
Gill and Berline first met at a bluegrass festival in Kentucky back in 1976. Once Berline heard the teenager perform and found out he was from Oklahoma, too, he never forgot him.
“I remembered his name, of course, and remembered his talent, his singing and his musical abilities,” Berline said. “Our lead singer of the band I had at the time bailed out shortly after that. I kept thinking about Vince, but I didn't really have any more information on him other than I knew he was from Oklahoma City.”
When he and his wife made a return trip to Oklahoma a few months later, Berline called every Gill in the Oklahoma City phone book until he finally reached the future superstar's father, Stan. The three-time National Fiddle Champion invited Gill out to California to audition for his band Sundance, and “he sang about two songs, and I said, ‘That's enough for me. He's got the job as far as I'm concerned.' We'd been trying out a lot of different singers and players, but he fit the bill really well.