Music Festival Rooted in Valley History
The Shenandoah Valley Music Festival has been bringing great music to the Valley for more than 50 years. It all started in the early 1960s when the American Symphony Orchestra League conductors’ workshops were being held each year at the Orkney Springs Hotel, now the Festival’s concert venue and home to Shrine Mont, a retreat and conference center in Orkney Springs, Va.
The league’s executive secretary, Helen M. Thompson and Col. Robert Benchoff, headmaster of Massanutten Military Academy in Woodstock, Va., noticed a lack of symphonic musical events in the community and formed a committee of local music lovers who supported their mission. In 1963, the Festival Committee presented its first concert, featuring the Symphony League Philharmonic Orchestra. The concert took place in the gym of Massanutten Military Academy. The staging was simplistic, with apple crates hanging from the ceiling to baffle the sound that bounced off the concrete block walls. But people flocked to that concert and many others that were to follow.
Through the years, the Festival grew into a more elaborate concert series, and by 1976, it moved to the outdoor pavilion at Shrine Mont.
The Festival remained purely symphonic until the early 1980s, when it added big band concerts to the season schedule. In the years come, other genres of music, including Americana/roots, pop/rock, country, folk and bluegrass, were added to the concert lineup. Today the festival presents 8 to 10 concerts per season from mid-July through Labor Day weekend. Many feature famous, award-winning artists from across the spectrum. The Temptations, Mary Chapin Carpenter, Kathy Mattea, Ricky Skaggs, Travis Tritt, Kris Kristofferson, Bruce Hornsby, The Nitty Gritty Dirt Band and LeAnn Rimes and many others have created a tradition of providing a “wow” experience just a few hours from the nation’s capital.
All the while, the Festival has remained true to its beginnings as a presenter of symphonic music. Every summer from 1979 – 2015, the Fairfax Symphony Orchestra performed multiple concerts each festival season. In 2016, the Festival forged a new partnership with the Piedmont Symphony Orchestra, based in Warrenton, and it was warmly received by loyal festival patrons who came out for the PSO’s first Pops and classical concerts that summer.
The Festival has also supported music education locally through the years by offering scholarships, recognizing outstanding music students in the region, and with the help of the federal Department of Education, creating the Valley’s first public school strings program in Shenandoah County.
In 2013, SVMF celebrated its 50th anniversary, making it the longest running music festival in Virginia. Its rich history is a testament to the public’s love of great music that it continues to bring to the Valley each summer and to the magic of its special setting. One visit and you’ll want to come back and become part of that history.