Wednesday July 29, 2009
by Stephanie Weaver
It may have been a long time since Kathy Mattea last visited Lancaster County, but the country and bluegrass singer still has a special connection with her fans.
In her first appearance at Long’s Park, marking the halfway point in the free summer-long concert series, Mattea packed the amphitheater’s lawn.
Series director Stella Sexton said about 6,000 people were already seated half an hour before the show. She expected “a few thousand more” by the time the concert began.
And when it was finally time for Mattea to come out, the crowd went nuts.
Mattea ran to the cheers, waving emphatically to the crowd with both hands.
“This park is like some cliché, it’s just so beautiful,” Mattea said, after opening with “Dark as a Dungeon.” “What a treasure you have here.”
Mattea, who turned 50 last month, has been playing and performing country, gospel, bluegrass and folk music for 25 years, earning two Grammys and a huge fan base.
“We’re gonna play some old songs, some new ones, some you may forget until you hear the words out of our mouths, “ Mattea said.
As if on cue, the crowd went nuts again when Mattea sang the opening line, “There’s a lighthouse in the harbor” from her 1987 hit “Goin’ Gone.”
Throughout the evening, Mattea skillfully blended her past hits with the new ballads from her 2008 release, “Coal.”
‘The songs are really beautiful but the subject matter can be kind of deep,” Mattea said of the new album, which shares her inner emotions of growing up in a mining family. “I thought I’d write this little album for me and then wound up going back to the Grammys after 15 years.”
The near-capacity crowd hung onto Mattea’s every word as the sun set behind the trees.
“I just feel like I’m here with your entire community at some big family reunion,” Mattea said before breaking into what she called her first big hit, “Love at the Five and Dime.”
“She’s really easy to listen to,” Sandy Neuman of Lancaster said, tapping her hand to the music.
Sandy and her husband Tom have been listening to Mattea since the ’80s, but said Sunday was their first time seeing her in person.
Unfamiliar with most of the music during the first half of the concert, the Neumans’ ears perked up when the song “18 Wheels and a Dozen Roses” began.
“Oh, I know this one,” Sandy said with a smile.
So did the majority of the crowd, who eagerly joined in singing the chorus when Mattea asked.
Sue Summerville of Lancaster, attending her first-ever Long’s Park concert simply because “she was here,” sat beaming as the song came to a close.
“Awesome, awesome, awesome,” Summerville said of the show. “It’s just so beautiful.”
Fellow fan Roseanne Settino of Columbia was overjoyed to hear Mattea was performing at Long’s Park after missing out on her show at the Whitaker Center in April.
“It’s fantastic,” Settino said, who has been following Mattea for more than 15 years. “She just sounds so much better in person.”
Mattea closed out the evening with the sweet “Where’ve You Been” that won her, and her husband John, their first Grammys, before rocking out to “455 Rocket.”
As Mattea belted out the final lines of “Rocket” the crowd stood, clapping and begging for more.
“Thank you so much, Lancaster,” Mattea said when the cheering finally died down. “You Amish really come out of your shell.”