SPRING LAKE — Alecia Nugent is living proof that a little girl's biggest wish can come true.
Nugent was only 9 years old when her father invited her onto the stage to sing a song with his bluegrass band at a small festival in Louisiana. The thrill of the moment never left her.
"It's all I think I've ever wanted to do," Nugent said from her home in Nashville earlier this week. "I love everything about it. I love to entertain an audience, and I try to give them everything I've got."
Nugent's reward for that all-out effort has been a legion of followers who flock to hear her honey-toned voice, which is as versatile as it is pure. Her ability to deliver everything from feisty, hard-driving bluegrass anthems to sorrow-soaked country ballads even earned her the moniker of "hillbilly goddess" from Nashville music columnist Robert K. Oermann.
Nugent, who has earned four Female Vocalist of the Year titles from the Society for the Preservation of Bluegrass Music, explained that her singing style came from growing up in an atmosphere where there were no dividing lines between country and bluegrass music.
"I always listened to classic country, people like George Jones, Conway Twitty, Merle Haggard and Reba McEntire," said Nugent, who headlines today at the Sertoma Youth Ranch's Spring Bluegrass Festival. "But then I also had a family that listened to and played bluegrass. Somehow, it all just seemed to fit right together."
Nugent fronted her father's bluegrass band for 13 years before finally getting a shot to produce a solo album in 2004. The resulting Alecia Nugent quickly stirred interest in the bluegrass world, which had long welcomed female singers such as Alison Krauss, Rhonda Vincent and Claire Lynch.
Produced by Grammy Award-winning musician Carl Jackson, the album earned great praise for Nugent's down-to-earth vocal stylings and led to two follow-up albums, A Little Girl … A Big Four-Lane and Hillbilly Goddess, for Rounder Records.
Nugent said that each trip to the studio has led to further development of her style.
"Every project has become more complex," she said. "I've grown vocally, and I find myself looking for songs with really cool lyrics that appeal to me."
Nugent's most recent album, Hillbilly Goddess, also showed that she has grown into an astute songwriter. The autobiographical Nugent Family Band, which she co-wrote with Dixie and Tom T. Hall, captured the flavor of growing up in a musical family.
"I can't say I ever saw myself emerging as a songwriter," Nugent said. "But if you're lucky enough to work with people that really know how to do it, it gets easier and easier as you go along."
Although she stays busy on the bluegrass festival and concert circuit, Nugent laments that she has performed only once before in Florida.
"I'd really like to change that," she said. "I know there are a lot of good bluegrass fans there, and I'm anxious to get to know them better."
Logan Neill can be reached at (352) 848-1435 or firstname.lastname@example.org.