By Laetitia Clayton - firstname.lastname@example.org
The Shenandoah Valley Music Festival has long been synonymous with summertime in the valley, bringing great music to the area and offering an enchanting outdoor venue in Orkney Springs.
This year, country soul legend Ronnie Milsap will open the festival's 48th season on July 23.
Dennis Lynch, the festival's executive director, said Milsap "popped up on my radar" eight or nine months ago, when he heard an interview with the singer on National Public Radio one Saturday morning that made him stop in his tracks. He was struck by Milsap's story of how he was abandoned by his mother when he was a child because she thought his blindness was a punishment from God. Yet Milsap was able to overcome his childhood trauma to become the Grammy-winning artist he is today.
"It was a compelling interview," Lynch said. "We like to hire folks that are kind of textured and have a strong artistic component to what they do. We try to get the highest quality artists that aren't generally available to be heard in this area."
Lynch was also impressed that Milsap, now in his 60s, is branching out and trying new things. Milsap's latest CD, "Then Sings My Soul: 24 Favorite Hymns and Gospel Favorites," is a collection of older hymns the singer knew growing up in North Carolina, such as "Holy Holy Holy" and "Amazing Grace," as well as some newer songs like "Up to Zion" and "When Jesus Was All I Had."
"For a long time, I was shy about recording gospel music because I didn't necessarily want to show the inside of my soul but now, the spiritual side of me is really shining through," Milsap says in a release.
Milsap had a number of chart-topping country hits in the '70s, such as "Let My Love Be Your Pillow" and "What a Difference You've Made in My Life." He is also one of the first artists to have crossed over from country to pop, with 1977's "It Was Almost Like a Song." Milsap had a number of hits -- both country and pop -- from the late '70s to the early '90s, scoring 11 No. 1 hits in a row in the early '80s. He has won six Grammys and a dozen CMA awards, including four as male vocalist of the year.
The following night, July 24, will feature Celtic Crossroads, an Irish music show featuring seven world-class musicians playing more than 20 instruments. The show incorporates musical genres in the Irish music family, such as Eastern European gypsy, North American bluegrass, world classical and jazz and various forms of Celtic music.
In keeping with the festival's symphonic history, the Fairfax Symphony Orchestra will perform on July 30 and 31, with the 30th offering classical music, and pops performed on the 31st. The Temptations, who have been performing for more than 40 years and have a series of smash hits, will join the orchestra on the 31st.
"That just had cool written all over it," Lynch said.
When the festival began in the early 1960s, the symphony orchestra was its focus, and concerts were held at Massanutten Military Academy, Lynch said. The festival found a home in Orkney Springs in the '70s, and has since branched out to include other types of music. But the symphony remains the centerpiece, he said.
"The festival was started as a way to present symphonic music," Lynch said. "That's still the core."
But as audience tastes changed, other genres of music -- like bluegrass, country and Celtic -- were added to the lineup, he said.
Five-time Grammy-award winner Mary Chapin Carpenter takes the stage on Aug.13, with Irish band The Saw Doctors performing on Aug. 14.
Bluegrass band Cherryholmes will perform on Sept. 4 to help close out the season.
Cherryholmes performed at the festival last year, Lynch said, and is back by popular demand.
"We don't normally repeat, but public feedback was so great," he said.
Cherryholmes is made up of six family members -- Jere and Sandy Cherryholmes and their children, Cia, B.J., Skip and Molly. The family only formed the band about 10 years ago, but have four Grammy nominations to date, and have released their fourth album, "Cherryholmes IV Common Threads."
"The band is in their element with powerful new compositions, setting a new course in their musical repertoire. While keeping the family's harmonic blend intact, new influential styles and flavors are discovered throughout this work in their aggressive instrumental style that is incomparably Cherryholmes' own. With a youthful spirit, masterful arrangements are melded into a rich tapestry of work that has taken Cherryholmes from humble beginnings to a full-fledged sound to be reckoned with," the family's online biography says of the new album.
The performer for final day of the season, Sept. 5, was also yet to be announced at press time.
The outdoor festival is held each summer in Orkney Springs, with room for about 600 under the cover of the pavilion, Lynch said.
He isn't sure about the capacity for lawn seating, but said legend has it that as many as 2,200 people have been there at once.
"We had 1,800 for Ricky Skaggs a couple of years ago," he said.
The festival site is now part of the Shrine Mont Camp and Conference Center of the Episcopal Diocese of Virginia. The historic Orkney Hotel, or the Virginia House, is also on the grounds at the base of Great North Mountain. It is listed in the National Register of Historic Places, and is still in use. The 96,000-square-foot structure was built in 1873 and restored in 1987. In 1979, Shrine Mont purchased the Orkney Springs Hotel and the surrounding 1,000 acres of land and restored the facility in 1987. At that time the common areas, meeting rooms and dining facilities were renovated. Today, more than 15,000 people pass through the Shrine Mont Conference Center each year.
Lynch said the atmosphere of the festival is as important as the music that's offered.
"In addition to the great music, we also offer the great experience," he said. "Not too many other places have Grammy-award winners under the moon and stars. That's what keeps people coming out."
For tickets to the festival or more information, call 459-3396 or visit www.musicfest.org. For information about Shrine Mont, visit shrinemont.com.
• July 23 -- Ronnie Milsap
• July 24 -- Celtic Crossroads
• July 30 -- Fairfax Symphony Orchestra -- classical night
• July 31 -- Fairfax Symphony Orchestra -- pops night with The Temptations
• Aug. 13 -- Mary Chapin Carpenter
• Aug. 14 -- The Saw Doctors
• Sept. 4 -- Cherryholmes with winner of Barrels, Barbecue and Bands contest
• Sept. 5 -- TBA