PETERSBURG - Less than a week after a once-in-a-lifetime trip to Las Vegas to sing in the annual Academy of Country Music Awards show, a Petersburg woman will be back in her hometown, singing at the monthly Pickin'n'Grinnin' on the square.
It's a long way from Marshall County to "Sin City" and the story of how Timberly Bates, 30, came to make that journey is both strange and heartwarming.
Bates has Williams Syndrome, a rare neuro-developmental disorder caused by a deletion of about 26 genes from the long arm of chromosome seven. According to Wikipedia, the syndrome is characterized by a distinctive facial appearance, unusually cheerful demeanor and ease with strangers, developmental delay coupled with strong language skills, and cardiovascular and other physical problems. It is also often associated with a great love for, and talent in, music.
"I just want people to be happy for me, not sorry for me," Bates said. "I want them to accept me for who I am, not what I have."
Last summer, Bates attended the ACM's weeklong Lifting Lives Music Camp in Nashville. The music camp provides persons with Williams syndrome and other developmental disabilities a unique opportunity to focus on what they love and do well - music. She and the other campers wrote a song, "Music from the Heart" with Brett James and Chris Young, and performed it on stage at the Grand Ole Opry, getting two standing ovations.
The song is "inspirational," says Bates, and it doesn't fit in any category.
"It makes you feel good if you hear it," she says. "It makes you think about yourself."
It came as a big surprise when Bates and 24 other campers were invited to sing their song on the ACM Awards stage with ACM-nominee Darius Rucker. Many of the audience were moved to tears as they watched the group of men and women singing their hearts out with Rucker's encouragement. The performance was a fundraiser for the Vanderbilt Kennedy Center, an interdisciplinary research, training, diagnosis, and treatment institute, which brings together scientists and practitioners in behavior, education, genetics, and neuroscience to work together in unique ways to solve the mysteries of development and learning.
"It was very exciting," Bates said, during an interview in the spring sunshine on Petersburg's town square. "It was good to see my friends (from camp) again. I was happy to go and I loved every minute of it."
She and her friend, Billy Chick, who accompanied her, saw "stuff you wouldn't see except on TV" during their busy weekend in Las Vegas. Bates even got to walk on the red carpet - twice - being escorted in and out of the MGM Grand under tight security.
In fact, security was so tight she didn't get to ask for autographs or take pictures of the stars.
"It was very stressful for her," Chick said. "There were a lot of last minute changes we had no control over. She likes to be secure.
"It was a working weekend for her," Chick continued. "She was out there to put the awareness out about Williams syndrome."
Bates said, "I just hope something good comes of it. There can be unspoken consequences worldwide."
The ACM paid for their trip and accommodations, but local people rallied round with donations for incidental expenses, and Bates and Chick want to send out a big "thank you" to everyone who helped.
Timberly Bates is Petersburg's very own ACM star now, and Chick speaks for everyone when he says, "A lot of people are proud of her."