STAUNTON __ They all sang in a different pitch, had a different tone and different lyrics. But what they had in common was their love of songwriting, their need to tell stories and their compassion for one another and the crowd.
On Friday night, the three-day Fortune Williams Festival at the Frontier Culture Museum kicked off. Fans awaited hometown heroes Jimmy Fortune and Robin and Linda Williams. They looked forward to hearing Jim Lauderdale and Radney Foster's newest treasures, but what surprised them was that five-time Grammy Award winner Mary Chapin Carpenter had joined the mix.
Carpenter, who lives close to Charlottesville, had just finished a recording and was happy to join her friends.
The six songwriters harmonized, sang their greatest hits, including the Harrisonburg Auto Mall jingle by Fortune, and tried out new tunes with the audience. Each song met with heavy applause.
"There is just something wonderful about live music," said Dan Frisbie, who came to the concert with his wife, Ann, and their two sons. "It's wonderful that Mary Chapin Carpenter came too. To have someone of that caliber here is tremendous."
But although the crowd loved all the singers, it was Fortune and the Williamses who brought many of them to the event.
Annie Tait of Grottoes and Brittany Elkins of Deerfield came specifically for Fortune.
"He has such a wonderful voice," Tait said. "I'll come back every year."
Micky and Michele Campbell, who grew up in the area but now live in Montpelier, planned a vacation around the festival. They were not disappointed.
"It's just great," said Michele Campbell. "They're some of our favorite writers."
Although more than 225 people filled the Cochran Pavilion, the audience was glued to their seats, listening attentively, sometimes mesmerized, other times laughing.
"It's great to be back for our second year," said Linda Williams.
"This thing is growing by leaps and bounds," added Fortune. "I feel like I'm in songwriting royalty here. The Shenandoah Valley and Staunton, Virginia, is the most awesome place in the world."