Laura Dean Bennett
This has turned out to be one busy week at the Pocahontas Opera House!
Coming on the heels of last Saturday’s performance of the first operatic music to be heard there in 100 years; followed by the West Virginia Farm Bureau and Pocahontas Producers annual dinner meeting and the Empty Bowls fundraiser for the Family Resource Network food pantry – having West Virginia’s queen of country music in concert for two nights is almost more than we could ever imagine.
The late Ruth Morgan, who spearheaded the restoration effort, was certainly right when she predicted that the Opera House would be the heart of Marlinton and the county.
Taking center stage Thursday and Friday evenings will be award winning country singer and West Virginia native Kathy Mattea.
Mattea was generous enough to give The Pocahontas Times a telephone interview in advance of her arrival here.
“I’m thrilled to be coming home to West Virginia,” Mattea said.
“I’ve been guest hosting for the Mountain Stage a lot lately – giving Larry Groce a break – so I’ve been back a lot.”
Mountain Stage is a delightful variety radio program and variety stage show produced by National Public Radio.
Its home is the Cultural Center in Charleston, but the show also travels to Morgantown and even comes to Elkins.
Mattea still has a lot of family and friends in West Virginia, with “lots of first, second and third cousins” – and she said they like to get together for big cousins dinners.
Mattea grew up in Cross Lanes, outside Charleston.
She was born in 1959, grew up singing in church, graduated from Nitro High School and attended West Virginia University.
She joined a bluegrass band in college, and then was off to Nashville where her first job was as a tour guide at the Country Music Hall of Fame.
“That was a really fun job,” Mattea said. “I learned so much about the history of country music and about the artists; things that I would have never known otherwise.
“And in between tours, I got to listen to so much music. It was a great way to get an education about country music.”
Apparently, her West Virginia roots have a strong hold on her. Although Mattea has lived in “an old residential neighborhood” in Nashville for 40 years, she said, “I feel like a West Virginian who lives in Tennessee.”
Mattea and three band members – a bassist, guitarist and fiddle and mandolin player – will be stopping at the Pocahontas County Opera House on their way to a Saturday night concert at the Weinberg Center for the Performing Arts in Frederick, Maryland.
Mattea is looking forward to performing at the Opera House.
“It sounds like a beautiful place,” she said. “We play lots of restored theaters – the 200 to 300 seats or 800 to 1,000 seats. I love those kind of theaters.
Mattea said they plan to do some new songs and some old favorites for the show in Marlinton.
“I like to put together a program that takes the audience on a musical journey,” she explained.
Mattea is philosophical about her music.
“Music is a great solace,” she said. “It has healing properties.
“Sometimes songs can get to an emotional place that you can’t get to in conversation.”
She’s also philosophical about her voice, which has presented a few challenges in the last few years.
“It’s been a progression – how my voice wants to wrap around a song these days,” she said.
“It has a deeper, richer quality now.”
Mattea’s voice was the first voice to be heard in the opening scene of the first episode of Ken Burns’ excellent documentary, Country Music.
It was big news when the Opera House announced that Mattea would be appearing for one night, Friday, October 18. This one-night show was made possible by The Tomato Fund.
Her local fans were thrilled – and then crushed.
They lined up down the block to buy tickets, but most of the line was turned away when the concert was sold out after just 20 minutes.
Then a miracle happened.
It was announced that Mattea has graciously agreed to come in a day early and give a second concert – on Thursday night, October 17.
It sold out in record time, as well.
The second night’s concert was made possible by the generosity of The Tomato Fund and Mitchell Chevrolet.
This is by no means Mattea’s first time in Pocahontas County.
“When I was growing up, our family came over here on many family vacations,” she said. “We rode the Cass Scenic Railroad and explored all around.
Snowshoe is one of her favorite places.
“I learned to ski at Snowshoe, and it wasn’t pretty,” she laughed.
“It was an impulsive thing.
“One Friday, when I was in college – I guess it was the the winter of 1976-77 – some of my buddies were going to Snowshoe for the weekend and asked if I’d like to come along. So I ran to my dorm room and grabbed all the warm clothes I had.
“It will be nice to be back in Pocahontas County.
“It really is beautiful.
“There’s no place like it.
“And I’ve been a lot of places.
“But I take West Virginia with me wherever I go,” she added.
“It’s part of who I am.”