By Kim Walter
WINCHESTER -- A lighthearted Rachel Lynn Matthews officially assumed her role as Queen Shenandoah LXXXVI during Friday afternoon's coronation at John Handley High School.
After the queen's court -- made up of princesses, maids, escorts, military personnel and other officials -- entered the full auditorium, the ceremony began.
Matthews's extravagant white gown flowed behind her as a representative from RMA brought out the official "crowning" chair. Her princesses, sporting bright pink dresses, beamed behind her on the stage as they stood by their escorts, who were members of Shenandoah University's baseball team.
President of the festival, Lou Ann Thompson, mentioned the glorious springtime weather that accompanied this year's Bloom.
"The festival has officially begun," she said to the audience, which she named "royal subjects."
Sen. Jill Holtzman Vogel described Matthews as coming to the festival with "honor and grace," and asked the court if they would like to proceed with crowning her.
The crowd responded with a resounding yes.
Victoria Maiden, the "Blossom Messenger" and Miss Apple Blossom Festival 2013, presented Matthews with a bouquet -- "the gift of blossoms."
"May all the moments of your reign be as lovely as each of these blossoms," she said.
Leslie Matthews, the queen's mother, conducted the oath, officially making her 19-year-old daughter "royalty."
"Long live the queen," she said, raising her arm and smiling. The "subjects" erupted in cheers as Matthews' crown sparkled in the spotlight.
Matthews also was presented with a sceptre, key to the "city's heart," and a golden apple.
To the crowd's pleasure, Matthews' first role as queen required her to knight Firefighters Marshals Jep and Jessica Robertson of "the Dynasty of Duck."
The reality TV show stars walked on stage as duck calls and rock and roll music blared from the speakers. Jep Robertson punched his fist into the air as a motion of approval.
Matthews giggled as she used a sword with an apple tip to knight the couple. As they walked to the side of the stage, both marshals said a few words.
"When I get home, I will be known as Sir Jep!" he shared with the crowd, to which they laughed and applauded.
His wife, a tad more gracious, thanked everyone for allowing them to be a part of "such a long-standing tradition."
Special homage was paid to distinguished guests, including former NBA star Johnny Newman and Miss Virginia 2012 Rosemary Willis.
One special guest, Eugene B. McDaniel, captain, U.S. Navy retired, received a standing ovation from the crowd. He was a POW for six years during the the Vietnam War. Since then, he has received the most distinguished Navy award possible.
"God bless America," he said into the microphone.
The grand marshal himself, American Idol 2011 winner Scotty McCreery, also was in attendance. While he didn't perform a country tune, his southern accent came out as he said a few words.
"Happy Apple Blossom y'all!" he said. "Now let's have a good time this weekend."
The 17-year-old took a seat among the queen's court as they settled in for the royal command performance, put on by the Handley Singers. The show, title "Something Old; Something New," began with a blue-tinted, smoke-filled stage.
A variety of artists were covered during the performance, including Lady Gaga, Adele, The Beach Boys and The Beatles. Strong soloists added the rich harmonies and clean choreography.
One lucky student sang a verse from Bruno Mars's "Just the Way You Are" to Matthews.
"She's so beautiful, and I tell her every day," he sang, walking toward the newly crowned queen. He extended his hand, and she accepted.
The two danced for just a minute, and it was obvious the spotlight came as a surprise to Matthews - she laughed and covered her face with her hand as soon as she sat down.
Contact staff writer Kim Walter at 540-465-5137 ext. 191, or email@example.com