Latina country singer reunites with musicians from Virginia

HARRISONBURG, Va. — On a dewy morning, a clear, confident voice echoed softly over James Madison University’s gleaming quad, accompanied by the deft strumming of a guitar.

Rays of morning light streamed through senior Caitlin Fernandez’s thick, black, curly hair, her broken cowboy boots and her crisp white Dolly Parton t-shirt – all things she’s proud of.

“I live by (Dolly Parton),” Fernandez said, quoting a quote about self-expression attributed to the country singer. “Every day when I put my boots on and I don’t see anyone on campus wearing boots, I’m like, ‘Just be who you are on purpose. Do it and don’t apologize for it.

The singer and guitarist performs on campus and at venues in downtown Harrisonburg,

Born in Del Rio, Texas, and raised just outside of Miami, Fernandez said she was steeped in Hispanic culture and country music traditions in equal measure. Her Mexican-American mother played a steady stream of American canon country songs in the car and at home, she said.

“My mom raised me on (country music),” Fernandez said. “Being from Texas and Florida, that’s exactly what I’m rooted in. It’s my home, it feels natural to play country.”

But, she observed, the two rarely overlapped.

“I really want to be a representation of Latin Americans in country music,” Fernandez said. “Growing up, I didn’t see that very often. A lot of people I know by name have just burst onto the scene.

Fernandez doesn’t just indulge in different hobbies.

Picking up the guitar in earnest over the past year, Fernandez went to Tuning Fork — a music repair shop in downtown Harrisonburg — for a few lessons with owner Sean Waddington, a musician from Harrisonburg.

“It was like his second or third lesson and I had to step up to help a client,” Waddington said. “I heard her sing here and stopped dead. I came running back here and I was like, ‘Keep it up.’ »

Fernandez said her first “real” performance was playing on the chilly front porch of the Tuning Fork, which Waddington said he encouraged her to do.

Taking Dolly Parton’s fearless words to heart, Fernandez said she started playing on the cold sidewalk. As she did, daylight and passers-by melted away, and there was only her and her guitar.

“When I’m playing, there’s nothing else in the world I’d rather do,” Fernandez said.

A graphic design major at JMU, Fernandez said she stepped out of the campus bubble by visiting open mic night at the Clementine Café downtown.

There, she said she met local musicians Rebecca Porter, a country singer-songwriter who released her debut EP “Prime Rainbow Conditions” in February, and Charlottesville-based producer, musician and songwriter Ryan Garst , and she also began to admire the musical traditions of Appalachia. .

“It’s a different kind of beauty,” Fernandez said. “The more I listen to (artists who perform) country, folk and Americana based on the Appalachian tradition, the more I feel like I was meant to be here to get a taste.”

In addition to Waddington, Fernandez said the other artists took her under their wing, introducing her to other local artists and supporting her as a musician as she performed at the Golden Pony and Brothers Craft Brewing Co. , among other places in town.

Fernandez’s graphic designs can also be seen on signage outside the Tuning Fork, where she volunteers occasionally, just to learn more about the music.

Along with becoming a music industry graphic designer, Fernandez’s goals for the coming years are clear.

“To continue to work hard and proudly represent my heritage and my family,” Fernandez said. “And be a force to be reckoned with in country music.”

Then, she turned to wrap up her cover of Marc Cohn’s 1991 soulful soft rock song, “Walking in Memphis.”

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