By Josette Keelor
Chatham Street has performed from Texas to New York, having opened for such acts as Seldom Scene and Don McLean. But the husband and wife duo said next weekend in Orkney Springs will offer its biggest opening act -- opening for Rock and Roll Hall of Famer Dave Mason.
The Shenandoah Valley Music Theatre's 50th anniversary season begins next weekend with An Intimate Evening with Dave Mason and special guest Chatham Street at 8 p.m. Friday, and continues Saturday with Bluegrass Minifest, featuring Nothin' Fancy of Lexington.
Chatham Street's style has been called Americana, and for lack of a better term they agree, but Christal Prout, 48, said that's really a catch-all term for a mix of rock and folk music.
She and husband Peter, 52, both play acoustic guitar and are learning a combination banjo and guitar called a banjitar, and he also plays electric guitar. But Friday night they'll leave it unplugged, at Mason's request.
"He asked us to stay with that theme," said Mrs. Prout. "They're trying to create that intimate evening atmosphere."
"This will be the first big show, really big show, that we've done all acoustic," she said.
The couple, who recently moved to Winchester from Stephens City, started singing professionally only three years ago.
They last performed in Orkney Springs in 2011, opening for John McCutcheon and Catie Curtis, after winning a contest the festival holds as a fundraiser every year, Mrs. Prout said.
"It's an original music performance contest," she said. "[They] have the public vote on their favorite."
"So that's why we got to do that," she said.
"For me," Prout said, "it's just really nice that we got asked again. We're honored to be considered."
The couple, married 26 years, said they've come into their musical interests a little late, but most of their upcoming weekends are booked.
"Music was never a full-time career for us," Mrs. Prout said. And it still isn't, but once she started writing songs, she never stopped. Their first album, "Last One Out," came out in 2010, and their second, "All That Mattered Now," the following year, but already she said she has 40 or 50 songs waiting for the third album they expect to begin working on this fall.
She writes about "lots of real life stuff," and she said the first two albums were about family who passed away, "Which is kind of what started my writing."
Returning through her music to her parents' childhood home of Wise County, W.Va., also has inspired her music.
"My roots are Appalachian and I tend to write about my dysfunctional family," she said. "I come from a family of coal miners and moonshiners."
"Heaven Bound," a song from the first album, is about a snake-handling preacher relative from the 1940s whose wife and unborn child died as the result of a snake bite.
"And he went to prison because snake handling is illegal," Mrs. Prout said.
"I put a lot of myself into all the songs that I write," she said.
Chatham Street will perform a couple of their well-known songs at the festival on Friday but plans to focus more attention on what might be on the new album.
Cellist Andy Mosholder also will join them for a song or two.
Despite their success so far, Prout said he still marvels at how far they've come.
"We've been able to accomplish some incredible things in four years," he said.
His wife agreed, "I think the one interesting thing is that somebody that's my age can still write later in life and be successful at it."
"I guess you're never too old," she said. "Just put yourself out there."
An Intimate Evening with Dave Mason with special guest Chatham Street will take place at 8 p.m. July 19 at the Shenandoah Valley Music Festival in Orkney Springs. Gates open at 6 p.m. Ticket prices are $39 for reserved pavilion seats and $34 for the lawn.
The Bluegrass Mini Fest will be at 6 p.m. Saturday and will feature Nothin' Fancy of Lexington. Gates open at 5 p.m. Reserved pavilion tickets are $30, and admission for the lawn is $25.
For more information, call 540-459-3396 or visit www.musicfest.org.
Contact Community Engagement Editor Josette Keelor at 540-465-5137 ext. 176, or firstname.lastname@example.org>