If Pastor Maurice Washington spots Ashley Valero sitting with the congregation at Barnett Chapel Methodist Church, there's a good chance he will summon her to the pulpit.
"Sister Ashley can you come up here," Washington is known to say.
AT LAST: Ashley Valero, Clifton Fifer and Konrad Wert
Arcadia Live! 5-7 p.m. on Friday. Admission is free.
And there's a reason for it: Valero's voice moves the pastor in ways like no other.
"It means ushering in the Holy Spirit," said Washington, who is known to weep as she sings. "That's the best way I can explain it. It's one thing when the congregation sings. That's beautiful. But when a soloist sings, it's more personal, and you feel it. There's a power there that moves you."
Ashley Valero is no stranger to singing — she's been doing it her whole life. She's no stranger to serving — she does it at her church and professionally. She is a relative stranger to performing.
"It doesn't happen that often," Valero said. "People ask me to come to sing, and I sang Etta James' "At Last," and that has taken off."
On Friday evening, Valero will sing as part of an improvised trio at Arcadia Live! — as part of the theater's back deck performance. Joining Valero will be some familiar faces — Clifton Fifer and Konrad Wert.
"It takes me back," Fifer said of Valero's singing prowess, especially on Sunday services. "In the old days, you had people in the church who didn't have music, but they had those voices that could make you feel what they're singing about."
Clifton Fifer will perform with Ashley Valero and Konrad Wert on Friday!
This move from the church to a live performance came about through Fifer and Arcadia's Stacie Leporati and Meredith Crook. The addition of Wert brings another dimension to the performance.
"Konrad brings out Ashley's voice,'' Fifer said.
Wert performs internationally as Possessed by Paul James, a solo act who plays guitar, fiddle and banjo. On most nights, Wert's act can headline at Arcadia Live, but on Friday, he's accompanying Valero and Fifer.
"He can just pick up and play anything at all," Valero said of Wert. "He just has the ear for it. I'm excited."
Konrad Wert, who performs as Possessed by Paul James, has arranged the music for Ashley Valero's performance at Arcadia Live.
Valero was born in Kerrville but spent much of her youth in Harlingen before returning to Kerr County. She resumed singing at Barnett Chapel and graduated from Ingram Tom Moore High School.
"I got my singing from the church," Valero said. "People tell me I can sing well, but half the time, I don't believe them because it just feels good. I was in this church, and my best friend, who wrote a couple of songs for me, turned around and said who is that girl who can sing? They were, like, that's Ashley. It wasn't until he told me that I have a song that I wrote and I want you to sing it, that I actually thought it was possible I could sing."
Her singing is largely self-taught, stylized by Etta James and other great Black singers.
"It's a God-given gift," Valero said. "I have no musical talent, I've never had a lesson."
But singing is only a side hustle because Valero plays a vital role as a licensed vocational nurse at MHDD's Crisis Stabilization Unit in Kerrville. She comes from a family of healthcare providers. Her commitment to the work often takes her away from Sunday services, and rehearsals come during her lunch hours.
"You know a lot of women in my family are in the medical field," Valero said. "Actually, I can say almost every person in my family is in the medical field. My grandmother cooked and did private sitting for a little old lady, and I would always go with her when I was a little girl. I would help her do stuff around the house. It's just who I am."
She graduated from Schreiner University's licensed vocational nursing program and is now in the registered nurse program there. It's tough work, but Valero is determined.
She's equally determined to put on a great show Friday night, and Pastor Washington believes that to be true.
"I keep going back to ushering in the Holy Spirit," Washington said. "It moves and calls onto people to feel His presence in a way that's different when she's not here."