By Peggy Mackenzie
Kathy Mattea will be returning to Lewisburg’s Carnegie Hall stage on Thursday, Dec. 11, with her “Songs and the Season” holiday program, a thoughtful blend of old favorites and music from her celebrated holiday albums, “Joy For Christmas Day” and the Grammy Award-winning “Good News” as a part of Carnegie Hall’s Hamilton Auditorium Performance Season. The concert is sold out.
Throughout her career, Mattea has explored music’s most basic human essence, delivered with beauty by an unmistakable voice. From “Christmas Collage,” an innovative, insightful medley of traditional carols, to the supple gospel call-and-response of “Baby King” and the dramatic “Mary Did You Know?,” Mattea’s “Songs and the Season” program displays her natural flexibility and hard-won artistic integrity. Her Christmas concerts are, she says, “more about the spiritual side of Christmas, and not so much about the holiday.”
Mattea’s sold-out performance at Carnegie Hall will bring both joy and reverence to this season of celebration.
Born and raised in Cross Lanes, just 10 minutes from downtown Charleston, Mattea moved to Nashville, TN to begin a country music singing career. She made a name for herself in mainstream country in the late 1980s and early 90s with a string of hits, including “Eighteen Wheels and a Dozen Roses” and “Where’ve You Been.”
After nearly 30 years of commercial success, which included earning a West Virginia Music Hall of Fame award, Mattea came around to singing from her roots of Appalachian traditional folk music pretty late in her career. Her Grammy nominated “Coal” album, released in 2008, followed up four years later with “Calling Me Home,” was a 180-degree about-face from the songs she’d sung before.
Referring to herself as a “recovering country music star,” she explains,”I feel like these last two albums are part of what I’m supposed to be doing. I grew up in West Virginia, where both my grandfathers had been coal miners, and the more I listened, the more this music rang true to me.”
Given her love of those kinds of songs – folk songs, really, that tell a human story – it should come as no surprise that Mattea would be drawn to the songs of Appalachia.
In June of 2011, Mattea was one of several speakers at the Blair Mountain March to stop mountaintop removal. Her songs now speak to coal and environmental issues reflecting the deep ambivalence with which many people in southern Appalachia now regard their greatest natural resource – coal. Mattea’s music is now fully tied to the “reluctant activism” that has tugged at her heart for nearly 20 years.
Married to songwriter and singer Jon Vezner for over 25 years, she resides in Nashville, TN.