Jovial songwriters kick off Fortune-Williams Music Festival at Frontier Culture Museum in Staunton

Lyrics laid bare at performance

By Cindy Corell/staff

September 29, 2007

STAUNTON __ If a song is a songwriter's best friend, then some of country music's best brought their friends to Staunton on Friday.

Billy Yates, whose songs have been recorded by George Jones, Tracy Lawrence, Daryle Singletary, Sara Evans and Joe Nickols, and Cowboy Jack Clement who has written for Jerry Lee Lewis, Roy Orbison, Waylon Jennings, Bobby Bare and Johnny Cash were guests at the Fortune-Williams Music Festival.

The jokes flew as often as the stories about each song they sang.

"Do you want it slow or fast," Yates asked the crowd.

"Half-fast," Clement fired back.

"I'm good at the half-fast stuff," Yates said, while the crowd chuckled.

"That one's older than most of you," Clement replied.

Robin and Linda Williams and Jimmy Fortune created Songwriters in the Round for the first night program of their three-night festival. The Williamses brought Clement, while Fortune invited Yates.

All five sat on the stage under the Lee Cochran Pavilion and entertained the crowd with songs and stories. Fortune sang his first song, "Elizabeth," and Robin and Linda sang their latest, "Maybelle's Guitar and Monroe's Mandolin."

It was country music at its best. Then Clement let out with a loud guitar riff.

"Rock 'n' roll?" he asked. "Just kidding."

When he sang "A Girl I Used to Know," he said he'd written it twice. The second version lasted, especially after George Jones and Porter Wagoner each recorded it.

Yates' version of "Choices" didn't get far before the crowd began to cheer. The more familiar interpretation was made famous by Jones but it almost didn't happen.

"The good thing about dealing with a band that drinks a lot is that sometimes they don't remember," he told the crowd.

The third time he pitched it to Jones, he said, it worked.