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Bob Wooten: Festival weathers anything

A chilly gust of wind swept down from the mountainside, and I knew we were about to get wet.

Sure enough, just as the evening was growing old, the edge of a storm passed over Orkney Springs. It brought a downpour that soaked the crowd enjoying the opening night of the Shenandoah Valley Music Festival's 2009 season.

The sun had been out when my wife, Linda, and I arrived at the festival and set up camp, and it soon turned into a gorgeous mid-July evening. As dusk fell, we enjoyed a picnic dinner on the back section of the huge lawn that spreads out from the stage and pavilion. Eileen Ivers and Immigrant Soul were belting out their blend of Irish and other roots music, sometimes called "Celtic fusion."

The band was starting its last set when the storm rolled in. Of course, the folks seated in the pavilion barely took notice -- they were under cover and on their feet, feeding off the high-energy performance.

Out on the lawn, the rain sent many folks running for their cars. Some of us, though, had just enough gear to pack up that hurrying for cover was a lost cause. We just took the drenching and enjoyed the band's last number, "Will the Circle Be Unbroken."

Somehow, it just added to the music festival's charm.

I can't imagine summer feeling complete without a trip up to Orkney Springs for a show at the festival, an annual series of weekend concerts. The pavilion and lawn are part of the Shrine Mont Camp and Conference Center owned by the Episcopal Dioceses of Virginia.

Formerly known as the Orkney Springs Hotel, the center started out as a resort built near a mineral spring. It became popular in the early 1900s among city people trying to escape the noise and heat of summer.

Strolling through the leafy grounds, gazing up at the huge white and green buildings, can be like a trip back to that era.

As dusk settles, though, it's all about the music.

Over the years, the festival has managed to attract some pretty big national acts, including Ricky Scaggs, Kathy Mattea and the Blind Boys of Alabama. The Fairfax Symphony is a mainstay for the festival, but organizers also book smaller acts with more niche appeal, like Arlo Guthrie's folk music show a couple of years ago.

The symphony played Friday night and will have another show this evening. The remainder of this season's schedule is:

* Aug. 7: Béla Fleck and Toumani Diabaté.

* Aug. 8: The Preservation Hall Jazz Band.

* Sept. 5: An Acoustic Evening with Travis Tritt.

* Sept. 6: Cherryholmes.

If packing a dinner is more work than you're interested in, take heart: Just outside the gate, Shaffer's Barbecue, Catering & Deli will be selling picnic food from one tent while ice cream is usually available from another.

One more suggestion: Bring a slicker. The festival goes on rain or shine, and you never know what will blow in from the west once the music starts.

For tickets or more information, call 459-3396 or 800-459-3396, or visit www.musicfest.org.

Bob Wooten is the managing editor of the Daily. Contact him at 1-800-296-5137 or at bwooten@nvdaily.com

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