Star-studded lineup on tap for 51st Shenandoah Valley Music Festival

By Jeff Nations

The Shenandoah Valley Music Festival brought out the big guns for last year’s 50th anniversary event, with an eclectic lineup of musicians headlined by country music legends Kris Kristofferson and Marty Stuart.

Festival director Dennis Lynch knew that would be a tough act to follow, so to speak, but he thinks this year’s 51st edition even surpasses last year’s star-studded concert slate.

“We followed it up by doing an even better program than we did in that 50th,” Lynch said. “And also, we’ve made significant improvements to our ticketing system. You can go online 24/7 now and purchase tickets to all the shows at home. We wanted to make it as easy as possible to buy tickets.”

Those tickets have been selling well, although Lynch said seats remain available for all the concerts making up the annual outdoor music festival held in Orkney Springs.

This year’s festival kicks off next Friday night with Straight No Chaser, an all-male a cappella band known for its unique twist on contemporary pop tunes. The 10-member group is far from the straight-laced stereotype associated with old-time a cappella, blending a serious approach to their music with a light-hearted stage presence.

One night later, Grammy Award-winning singer-songwriter Rosanne Cash returns after first playing the Shenandoah Valley Music Festival 11 years ago. Cash, who will perform with her husband and musical director John Leventhal, just released a highly acclaimed new album, The River and the Thread, in January. Lynch expects Cash, the daughter of music legend Johnny Cash, to play both new songs from that album and some of her hits from previous years.

“I don’t think I’ve ever heard of a record that’s gotten positive reviews like this one has,” Lynch said. “A lot of people are calling it the best of her career, and she’s kind of riding that wave right now.”

In keeping with its roots, the festival will once again host the Fairfax Symphony Orchestra — a regular performer in the series since 1979 — for two dates on July 25 and July 26. On July 25, guest conductor Luke Frazier will lead the orchestra in a special performance titled “I’ll Be Seeing You,” a program based on actual letters written by Frazier’s family during World War II. Selections will include songs of the era by George Gershwin, Jerome Kern, Hoagy Carmichael and Duke Ellington among others.

Frazier will conduct the orchestra in another special program on July 26. “A Civil War Portrait” will trace the major campaigns of that conflict with narration and music from the era, including Stephen Foster’s “Battle Hymn of the Republic” and popular folk songs like “Danny Boy.”

Also on July 26, the SVMF has partnered with the Woodstock Enhancement Committee to present its first Kids ROC of the season. Silly Bus, a two-time Mom’s Choice winner, will perform a free concert on the main stage at Woodstock’s W.O. Riley Park.

That weekend is capped by another free performance as the Air Force String Band is scheduled to play on July 27. The 20 active duty airmen perform a wide range of musical styles.

In August, the festival resumes with popular tribute band Arrival from Sweden, billed as one of the best ABBA show bands around. Arrival will perform all the hits from the 1970s-era supergroup during an Aug. 1 concert in Orkney Springs.

“It’s an absolutely wonderful trip down memory lane for a lot of folks,” Lynch said. “ABBA is the third or fourth best selling band in history. Everybody knows the music. We’re really looking forward to hosting this band.”

Named the “Queen of Bluegrass” by the Wall Street Journal, five-time Grammy nominee Rhonda Vincent and her band The Rage headline Hot Strings and Cool Breezes — Mini Bluegrass Fest scheduled for Aug. 2. Also appearing will be local and regional bands Circa Blue, Bud’s Collective, and Marv Ashby and High Octane.

The month closes with another heavy hitter from country music. The Oak Ridge Boys will play in the festival for the first time ever on Aug. 30. The legendary group has recorded dozens of country hits over the years and is forever linked to their pop cross-over smash hit, “Elvira.”

“The Oak Ridge Boys is a band that we’ve had on the short list for a number of years,” Lynch said. “Finally, the schedule worked out really nicely for them to come.”

“They’ve been playing music for 40 years or more. These guys know what they’re doing.”

A band with regional roots, Eddie From Ohio, plays the final festival date on Aug. 31. With three members who graduated from nearby James Madison University, Eddie From Ohio might best be described as a contemporary folk band featuring a unique blend of vocals and acoustic instrumentation.

“There is a little something fore everyone,” Lynch said. “If you like good music, we’ve got it.”

The festival is again on solid ground after enduring a few lean years recently, mainly due to the oppressive summer heat in 2011 and 2012 that kept concert-goers away from the outdoor venue.

“It’s no secret that we had a few bad years in a row,” Lynch said. “We needed some help from the public and the community, and they responded magnificently for us. We had a wonderful 2013 and we’re looking to carry that momentum on through 2014.”

For more information about the Shenandoah Valley Music Festival, visit the web site at www.musicfest.org.

Contact staff writer Jeff Nations at 540-465-5137 ext. 161, or jnations@nvdaily.com