By Josette Keelor
Musician Danni Leigh was working at Record Town at Winchester's Apple Blossom Mall in high school when she met Terry Oates. He used to come in an buy LPs, she said.
"I've known Terry since I was a teenager," she said recently, and this Saturday the two will share the stage at Strasburg Home Theater's first concert performance since its reopening in June.
After moving to Florida to start her singing career, seeing it take off after moving to Nashville and later spending 4 1/2 years living in and touring Europe, Leigh has returned to Strasburg where she now lives with her husband Mike McKenzie and 3-year-old son Hudson.
When the opportunity came to perform at the newly renovated theater, she thought of Oates, whom she heard had also recently returned to the area.
"We decided to make this our first show together," she said. Leigh's husband, a singer, songwriter and acoustic guitar player, will perform too.
Leigh said leaving the Northern Shenandoah Valley at age 19 or 20 was the right thing to do, but she always missed the mountains, and even though her husband had never lived here, he agreed this was the right place to raise their son.
"He's a large part of the reason that we did come straight to Strasburg," Leigh said. "He really, really loves the area."
"Been all over the world together and separately," she said. "It's hard to beat the beauty in the Shenandoah Valley, I must say."
Saturday she plans to play "the old dusty standards" from her repertoire of country music that's become more Americana through the years, heavily influenced by Janis Joplin. Fans can expect to hear favorites like "If the Jukebox Took Teardrops," "Honey I Do" and "29 Nights."
"I do a little bit of everything, really, stylistically," she said. Her latest of four albums, "Masquerade of a Fool," was a European release by a German record label and has been hard to get in the United States, so she said she will have copies available for sale on Saturday.
"I am looking to make another record here before too long," she said. "It'll be a honky tonk record for sure."
But moving back to the valley doesn't mean Leigh's hung up her guitar.
Sunday, Leigh and McKenzie will be at the Woodstock Café and Shoppes from 2 to 4 p.m. On Aug. 31 she'll be at the Shenandoah County Fair on the BB&T free stage at 6 p.m., and Sept. 7 she will perform at Shiley Acres in Inwood, W.Va., for the Pickin' in the Panhandle Festival, where country artist and former American Idol contestant Kellie Picker also will be featured.
"It's really extra special for me to be home again," Leigh said.
Terry Oates and the Mudcats, based in Winchester, perform a high-energy form of blues based on traditional influences with a modern flair, their website says. They draw inspiration from BB King, Howlin Wolf, Muddy Water and others.
Richard Perryman, owner of the Strasburg Home Theater, said he's "beyond excited" to have Leigh perform with Terry Oates and the Mudcats for the theater's first concert event and said Leigh invited Oates and his band to perform for the concert.
Leigh said her career started out very differently from how it ended up.
Initially she moved to Florida to be a singer at Disney World because she wanted to hone her craft before trying to make it in Nashville. She joined a band with Artimus Pyle, the drummer from Lynyrd Skynyrd, "and that was ska music believe it or not, so I was a backup singer in that band.
One of the greatest highlights of her career has been the talents she's worked with.
"Getting to know and singing with people like Buck Owens, Willie Nelson, Merle Haggard," she said. "My idols are all the icons with country music that unfortunately we're losing."
She said she's grateful and thankful for the opportunities she's had, "And that's because of the fans, and it truly is in my case," she said. "And I love them for that."
My entire career has been a complete thrill, it really is."
Danni Leigh will perform with Terry Oates and the Mudcats at 8 p.m. at the Strasburg Home Theater. Tickets are $8. For more information, 465-4400, strasburghometheater.com.
Contact Community Engagement Editor Josette Keelor at 540-465-5137 ext. 176, or email@example.com>