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When Kathy Mattea Met Tony Bennett

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Thursday November 03, 2016

From The Farmington Daily Times

Kathy Mattea performs concert in Durango, Colo.
By: Mike Easterling

Years ago, after performing during an afternoon show that also featured a performance by legendary crooner Tony Bennett, country singer Kathy Mattea found herself navigating a post-event cocktail party for VIPs, something she freely admits she’s not very good at.

Plotting her escape, she spotted Bennett standing by a doorway by himself, looking just as uncomfortable as she felt. Mattea quickly made her way through the crowd to the singer, whose once-crumbling career had gone through an unlikely U-turn as he entered his 70s, skyrocketing via his MTV performances alongside such favorites of younger audiences as the Red Hot Chili Peppers, Elvis Costello and k.d. lang.

Bennett sounded as good as ever, Mattea thought, and he had found a way to connect with listeners less than half his age while performing standards written by the likes of Irving Berlin, George Gershwin, Cole Porter and Duke Ellington — all heavyweights, to be sure, but hardly the kind of songwriters likely to attract the attention of a generation still immersed in rock ‘n’ roll and just beginning to wake up to the sounds of hip-hop. Amazingly, Bennett had even emerged as the unlikely winner of the 1995 Grammy award for Album of the Year for his disc “MTV Unplugged.”

Mattea — who had enjoyed a good run of success herself in Nashville in the late 1980s and early 1990s, charting four No. 1 country hits on the Billboard charts and winning a pair of Grammys — was fascinated. She was also intent on seizing the moment to learn something valuable.

“I thought, ‘You’ve got Tony Bennett, and no one else is here,’” Mattea said, laughing and recalling the moment during a telephone conversation last week from her Nashville home before she set out on a tour that includes a stop Thursday, Nov. 3 in Durango, Colo. “So I walked up to him, and I said, ‘I’ve got a question for you. I heard you sing tonight, and I know how old you are. How did you do it?’”

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