Kathy Mattea's Summer Filled with Highlights

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Thursday August 30, 2007


Nashville, TN – Summer is the season most often associated with a chance to break free and look at the world without the confines of a schoolroom or office.Kathy Mattea found that summer might be the best time for stretching out both personally and professionally, and for proving that music is a universal window to the world. Her endeavors ranged from working in the studio, to hiking with her husband in the mountains, to an aerial tour of her native West Virginia coal fields, all of which has combined to bring her back on the road to present a new show and new music with a renewed passion.

Kathy’s summer adventures began in May with the presentation of her honorary doctoral degree from West Virginia University. Two decades earlier, she had left the school for Nashville to pursue her career in music, yet her native West Virginia has never been far from her heart. She made frequent trips to the state, not only to perform, but also to visit with family and friends who still reside there.
Her love of West Virginia and roots in the coal mining culture of that state provided the basis for a collection of coal songs she has long planned to record. She enlisted the help of award-winning artist and producer Marty Stuart, whose rich history with Appalachian music and gift for facilitating the acoustic recording process proved to be a perfect partnership for Kathy’s vision. Kathy and Marty have been putting the finishing touches on the album, Coal, this summer. The album features a mixture of traditional and newly written songs, each highlighting a different aspect of the men and the culture of coal. “It’s been a labor of love, and an honor to tell the stories of these very special people,” Kathy says.
Kathy’s passionate nature is not limited to her music, however. After seeing Al Gore give his “Inconvenient Truth” slideshow at Vanderbilt University, she signed up to be part of the first training class Mr. Gore gave, educating 1000 people from all walks of life, education, government, politics, science, and the arts, to give the slideshow on a grassroots level, as a volunteer service project. “After seeing that information, I could not sleep for several days.� I knew I had to do something to be part of the solution.”

Kathy’s environmental work, coupled with her current coal-oriented music, brought her to discover a darker side of the coal mining industry, known as Mountain Top Removal. Both of Mattea’s grandfathers were coal miners, so she’s familiar with the history of coal. But she says she only recently learned how much coal mining has changed.

I didn’t know what was going on. I went to make a record of coal mining songs. I saw Al Gore give his PowerPoint presentation. I trained to be a grassroots presenter. They said to personalize your slide show any way you want, so I went looking for a picture of a strip mine in West Virginia and found a world I didn’t know existed,” Mattea explained.
The Grammy award-winning country music star returned to her native West Virginia recently to view the devastation caused by this destructive practice.� Mountaintop removal is a violent form of coal mining where large sections of mountains are blown off in order to expose the coal. This practice has impacted hundreds of thousands of acres across Appalachia. In the process, rocks and wastes have dammed streams and rivers, flooded long-time residences and ruined people’s livelihoods.
Sierra Club Vice President for Conservation Robin Mann joined Mattea and community leaders on an aerial tour of the coalfields near Charleston. The group then met with residents on Kayford Mountain, West Virginia.

Her reaction I’m just listening and looking, you know, she said in an interview with West Virginia Public Broadcasting after her personal fly-over of the stripped mountain area.There’s no words for this. There’s just no words for it. And you know, I walk around thinking I’ve got a house in Tennessee that’s burning some of this coal right now. The problem is big. It’s humbling and it’s infuriating and it’s heartbreaking.

Kathy was also in demand as a speaker and teacher this summer, in music and songwriting workshops as well as in several public and private forums, activities which also afforded her a little time to relax and enjoy some beautiful and varied locations in the U.S. and Canada.

After a summer that involved much learning and much teaching, Kathy is looking forward to a season of sharing her new music, and of connecting with friends old and new.