Kathy Mattea’s ‘Acoustic Living Room’ coming to Stephens Performing Arts Center
In 2008, Grammy Award-winning and two-time CMA Female Vocalist of the Year country music artist, Kathy Mattea had thought that her Coal album would be a nice little side project from her normal style which included such hits as “Goin’ Gone,” “Eighteen Wheels and a Dozen Roses” and “Come From the Heart,” but she stated in an International Music Network Interview, “There was no life to go on with after I finished Coal.”
Coal and Calling Me Home, the last album she produced in 2014, started reuniting Mattea with her Appalachian/West Virginian roots. Mattea told the Huffington Post that she took some time off in 2015 from touring to rethink where she wanted to go musically and “play for the sake of playing” once again.
“I spent a lot of time in my living room with my guitar and my guitarist Bill Cooley,” Mattea said, “and we just have gone over songs and explored nooks and crannies of the kind of songs that I never would have tried before.”
What started out as an exploration of her roots in her living room has since became a full-blown tour called “The Acoustic Living Room” which Mattea will bring to Pocatello on March 17 in the Stephen’s Performing Arts Center at 7:30 pm. According to a recent announcement on her website, “The Acoustic Living Room” music is also expected to be released this year as her newest recording project.
“When I went back to write the music for Coal, it was like discovering this music you were meant to sing your whole life,” Mattea said. “Only I missed it! It was like meeting a family member or a long-lost friend. … I couldn’t have done these songs when I was 20, especially these older songs. They’re weighty. I fit the worn jeans better now — a satisfying thing that feels new to me somehow.”
“I think a lot of people leave Appalachia because they have to,” Mattea said, but just like them, she’s been gone for decades and still thinks of herself as a “West Virginian who lives in Tennessee. … It’s one of the last places in our country where people are this attached to where they lived—one of the last places that has its own flavor. … As I get older and as the culture changes, I realize how special it is.”
Appalachian music is a blend of bluegrass, Celtic, blues, and gospel. Mattea said that the isolated nature of living in the mountains allowed the music to create it’s own rich “flavor.”
Mattea was raised in Cross Lanes West Virginia — the granddaughter of a coal miner and full of spirit and brains.
“I was the wiz kid in the family,” Mattea stated in a 2015 interview on Conversations From Penn State. “I was the kind of kid you would give Ridilin to these days. ... When I got into school, they tested me and I skipped the first grade. When they were testing me, they told my mom not to let me get bored so she put me into everything — skating, horseback riding and piano lessons. The only thing that didn’t get boring for me had to do with music.”
Mattea graduated from high school at age 16 and studied engineering at West Virginian University for two years. While there, she and friends also performed on the front porch of one of their rentals, which began drawing large crowds.
Mattea recalled, “The police would block the street off every Friday, putting up barriers for people’s safety. At one point they said, ‘Guys, there are bars on every corner of this college town, will you please do us a favor and take this to a more appropriate venue? Call yourselves a band and go do this!’”
And Mattea did. In 1978, at the age of 19, she quit school and moved to Nashville.
“I didn’t go to Nashville to find a record deal,” she explains. “I went to Nashville to find out who I was musically and the stuff I was made of as a person.”
Mattea said the call home to let her parents know she had quit college and was moving to Nashville was one she’d never forget.
“Thunder struck on the other side of the phone,” she said.
Mattea spent the next three weeks with her parents as they talked about it.
“We didn’t agree, but we respected each other enough to hear each other out. That was the moment I stepped across the line and had an adult relationship with my parents.”
Mattea experienced further heartache with her parents throughout her life. In 2003, her father died of cancer, and her mother died in 2005 after battling Alzheimer’s for many years.
“I haven’t really talked about this,” Mattea told the Washington Post, “but my mom sort of disowned me at the height of my career and I nearly had a nervous breakdown, but my voice blew up instead (speaking of the throat surgery she endured in 1994). I know now that it was the early signs of her Alzheimer’s kicking in, but it cut me at the knees when I was the most out there in the public eye.”
It took Mattea five years from the day she arrived in Nashville for her first single come out which started down the path of stardom. Forty years after leaving West Virginia and 18 (almost 19) albums later, Mattea’s music is still being played.
Mattea told the Huffington Post that the best advice of her career came from producer Allen Reynolds — who went on to work with Garth Brooks.
“He just kept saying that you can hear trends in music, you can hear what everybody else is doing, you can try to match what’s going on in radio or you can go find the absolute best song you can find and sing it as honestly as you can and frame it well. … That’s the record they’ll still be playing on the radio 20 years from now.“
About her current tour and projects, Mattea said, “Each record changes you. Each record teaches you something. The touring teaches you something. … I can’t say where I’ll go, but I feel like I’m drinking from a deep well and I want to keep quenching that thirst.”
“The Acoustic Living Room” tickets range from $22-$26.