Five of Nashville’s leading songwriters and up-and-coming talents from throughout the region will gather on the campus of Virginia Highlands Community College on Saturday, May 18, for the Richard Leigh Music Festival, a day-long celebration of song to benefit foster care students.
Grammy Award Winner Richard Leigh will headline a 6 p.m. performance also featuring Tony Arata, Mark D. Sanders, Dennis Morgan, and Roger Cook. These five members of the Nashville Songwriters’ Hall of Fame - who have written songs for country music greats like Garth Brooks, Trace Adkins, Reba McEntire, George Strait, Faith Hill, and Randy Travis - will perform their well-known hits and share the stories behind the songs. Ed Snodderly, a local songwriter whose lyrics are inscribed on the wall of Nashville’s Country Music Hall of Fame, also will perform and emcee the show.
Other festival highlights include a 5K Walk sponsored by DePaul Community Resources, a songwriting contest, and music throughout the day from local songwriters Gill Brasswell, Mary Munsey, Impeach Dixon, and Annabelle’s Curse. The festival will end with a 9 p.m. concert featuring local favorites If Birds Could Fly and Folk Soul Revival
The festival honors the work of Richard Leigh, a 1973 VHCC graduate who wrote “Don’t it Make My Brown Eyes Blue,” the Crystal Gayle hit that was named “Best Country Song” at the 1978 Grammy Awards and one of the ten most performed Country Songs of the Century at the 1999 ASCAP Awards. Over the course of his career, Richard has been honored with numerous awards from the Country Music Association, the Academy of Country Music and the Nashville Songwriters Association International, and written dozens of chart-topping hits. He was inducted into the Nashville Songwriters Hall of Fame in 1994 and was named to the Outstanding Alumni Hall of Fame by the American Association of Community Colleges in 2011.
Richard enthusiastically agreed to return to the VHCC campus, rally his friends, and lend his name to the upcoming festival that will celebrate the art of songwriting and benefit VHCC’s Great Expectations Program for foster care students. Because Richard lost his parents at a young age and was later adopted, the cause is one close to his heart.
“I am pleased to have been asked to partner with the VCCS’ Great Expectations Program designed to assist former foster care students like myself pursue their college dreams,’’ he said. “Music and college changed my life 40-some years ago. It’s my hope that the songwriters festival will help do it all over again for others.”
VHCC launched its Great Expectations Program in 2008 with support from a community donor, and the program has since grown to several other community colleges across the Commonwealth. Through this program, foster care students receive the support they need to complete high school, enroll at a community college, and transition successfully from the foster care system to independent living.
Great Expectations Coach Criss Golden leads the program on the VHCC campus, ensuring students in foster care have access to tutoring, help applying for financial aid, career exploration services, life skills training, personal counseling and student mentors. Former First Lady of Virginia Anne Holton serves as Great Expectations Program Director, leading the program across Virginia’s community colleges.
“Strong community support is the secret to the success of Great Expectations,” said Anne Holton, former Virginia First Lady and former juvenile court judge, who was hired to lead the program at the beginning of 2013. “We are so grateful to Richard Leigh and his fellow artists who are graciously helping so many young people. On a personal note, this is some of my favorite music, and I am tremendously excited about this music festival.”
The festival will begin with a 5K Walk sponsored by DePaul Community Resources to raise awareness about foster care needs and services in our region. A similar walk last year generated more than 200 participants.
“We are excited to be hosting our second Walk to Foster Hope,” said Branch Director Nancy Wampler of DePaul’s Abingdon office. “Partnering with VHCC and the music festival is thrilling. We are always ready to sing about the need for more families, and feel blessed to work with a wonderful group of families and children throughout Central and Southwest Virginia. We want to encourage families to find the place in their heart and home to foster or adopt a child from the system, regardless of where they live.”
DePaul Community Resources is a nonprofit, human services organization that is dedicated to transforming the lives of children, adults and families. Community members can learn more about fostering or adopting a child by contact Jamie Morgan at 276-623-0881.
Tickets for the Richard Leigh Songwriters Festival are $25 and can be purchased online through PayPal at www.vhcc.edu/songwriters. A PayPal account is not required. Tickets purchased after April 30 will be $30. Children under 6 will be admitted free.
For additional information, please visit our website at www.vhcc.edu/songwriters.