The Glorifying Vines Sisters will bring a shot of gospel love to the seemingly unlikely venue of Wide Open Bluegrass.
The Vines are four sisters – Dorothy, Alice, Mattie and Audrey – from the Eastern North Carolina town of Farmville. They’ve been singing gospel music together in one form or another for more than 40 years, and they also recorded in the 1970s, although their records are out of print.
The lineup consists of four singing sisters out front on vocals and testimony, with a sharp backup band consisting of extended family members. Their music has a Civil-Rights-era feel akin to better-known groups like the Mighty Clouds of Joy (for whom the Vines have opened) and the Staple Singers.
“We all came up singing in church,” said Alice Vines, who also serves as the group’s manager. “Our dad used to sing, him and his brothers, really well. And he started us on it, too. We all started out singing in the choir.”
Various combinations of Sisters have been at it long enough that Alice, who joined 40 years ago, is the most recent vocal member of the Glorifying Vines.
“I started singing with my sisters in the group when I was 25,” Alice Vines said. Then she added with a laugh, “Yeah, I’m the black sheep of the family!”
They’ve spent much of those 40 years on the road performing at churches and gatherings, mostly in the South. Bringing old-school tent-revival fervor to unexpected places, like a bluegrass festival, is pretty standard for them.
But they moved things up to a higher level after coming to the attention of the Music Maker Relief Foundation. Based in Hillsborough, Music Maker is an organization that helps older roots artists – whether blues, soul, country or gospel – with everything from booking shows to doctors’ appointments.
After a series of shows around the Triangle, Music Maker management decided to try to take the Vines out to a wider audience. It worked well enough for them to score a date at last month’s Blues to Bop Festival in Switzerland.
Not only was it the Vines’ first-ever performance overseas, it was also the first time any of them had ever flown on a plane.
“It was wonderful, a great experience, and we had a marvelous time,” said Alice Vines. “The people were awesome, really nice, and they responded and showed a lot of love.”
When the Vines aren’t on the road, they do their performing in church, mostly at Believe in Jesus Ministry, a small church in Farvmille where Alice Vines is pastor. Audrey Vines works as a school teacher, Dorothy Vines Daniels is in human resources, and Mattie Vines Harper is a nurse.
It doesn’t take much for Alice Vines to catch the spirit, in or out of the pulpit.
“I sing and I preach and I do the best I can,” she said. “I usually catch the spirit, and God just reveals things to me. Without faith, it is impossible to believe in God. You have to believe in things you don’t see, even when faith is put to the test. You still have to believe!”
That spirit animates the Vines’ performances.
“I would describe the music as music that reaches the heart of peoples,” Alice Vines said. “Reach your soul, it’s got meanings, you know it’s telling about how you can be saved, you know.”
Cornelius Lewis, who works as Music Maker’s community coordinator, accompanied the Vines to Switzerland for their festival appearance. He pronounced himself blown away by the crowd response.
“When we arrived, they were treated like royalty,” Lewis said. “The folks over there were real kind. The Vines played five shows over the course of four days and audiences were just beside themselves with fervor. They really put it out there. I’ve seen all kinds of genuine authentic acts, and the Vines still blew me away.”
The Glorifying Vines Sisters will play Friday at the Wide Open Bluegrass Street Festival at 5 p.m. at the Dance Tent. The street festival is free.