Grammy-winning country artist Kathy Mattea to perform at Quick Center


Grammy-winning singer-songwriter Kathy Mattea, who blends bluegrass, gospel, funk, folk and Celtic sounds into her own singular style, will perform Friday, Nov. 15 at 8 p.m. at Fairfield University's Regina A. Quick Center for the Arts.

Shunning the glossy pop and rock influences so prevalent in modern country music, Ms. Mattea is the sure spirit behind the Top 10 country singles "18 Wheels and a Dozen Roses," "Goin' Gone," "Come from the Heart" and many others. Her efforts have won her accolades, including two Grammys and Single of the Year, Song of the Year and Female Vocalist of the Year awards from both the Country Music Association and the Academy of Country Music.

But Ms. Mattea continues to strive for more than awards, looking for ways to make sense of life and connect to others through her unique rootsy style.

"Folk music was my door into country music, and in some ways, I think I'm still more of a folk artist than a country artist," she told Dirty Linen Magazine. "That really is where it all began for me, sitting around in a circle with my friends and my guitar, playing music, sharing songs back and forth. I could do that for hours. I could do that for days!"

Born in Cross Lanes, W.V., Ms. Mattea was surrounded by the bluegrass and roots country music that would become her passion. A self-described "whiz kid," she was often bored with school, so her mother kept her busy with Girl Scouts, ice skating, community theater and music lessons.

It was music that stuck, opening a new world to Ms. Mattea. She took in her dad's Big Band records, joined her church's folk group, jammed with a friend's bluegrass band, sang show tunes with the theater group and listened in as her brother played albums by James Taylor and Big Brother and the Holding Company.

She learned to play both the piano and the guitar in grammar school and it was in eighth grade that she got her first singing break. Her friend Patty wanted to join the all-county choir, but was afraid to audition alone. They sang together and, while Patty didn't make the cut, Ms. Mattea did. By 10th grade, she was singing solo on a local cable TV show.

Ms. Mattea finished high school and enrolled at West Virginia University at Morgantown. She had planned to major in engineering, physics or chemistry, but fate had other ideas. She started playing in a bluegrass band called Pennsboro and, when one of the members announced he was headed for Nashville, Ms. Mattea decided to join him.

"I thought about me being in school and him being in Nashville writing me all these letters about the great life he was leading," she told Dirty Linen. "I also thought, I was really good at physics and chemistry - I could do it in my sleep - but I didn't want to end up on a shelf somewhere, just some brain in a jar crunching numbers. This was a chance to lead a more interesting life."

Ms. Mattea's first job in Music City was interesting in another way: She was a tour guide at the Country Music Hall of Fame, an institution that now lists her on the board of directors. Since talking to tourists all day wore out her voice, she soon left to work at an insurance company and later as a waitress at Friday's.

In between shifts, Ms. Mattea made the rounds of publishers and was able to make a living singing jingles and doing studio work. Around the same time, she met her future husband and writing partner Jon Vezner, who came to her aid after her car died on a city street.

In 1983, Ms. Mattea signed with Mercury Records and released her self-titled debut album, following that with the well-received "From My Heart." Both records enjoyed brisk sales, but it was her 1986 album "Walk the Way the Wind Blows" that took her to the next level. Three songs from the album, including Nanci Griffith's "Love at the Five and Dime," rose to the Country Top 10. "Untasted Honey," her 1987 follow-up, offered two number one hits, including "18 Wheels and a Dozen Roses," a trucking song she's made her unlikely signature tune.

Between 1988 and 1993, Ms. Mattea spent much of her time behind a podium making acceptance speeches. Within those five years, she won 11 prestigious awards for her work, including Grammys for Best Country Performance by a Female Artist and Best Southern Gospel, Country Gospel or Bluegrass Gospel Album.

But Ms. Mattea feels all the stress and attention took its physical toll, leaving her with vocal cord problems that eventually required surgery. After recording Lonesome Standard Time in 1992, her voice gave out completely and she was forced to reflect on the nature of the music she really wanted to make. Her next album, the 1993 Christmas recording "Good News," ended up winning the Grammy in the Gospel category.

Her most recent albums are filled with songs that dip into several musical styles. There are the Celtic whistles on "Trust Me," the intense, soulful commitment of "(Love is) My Last Word" and the breezy Gillian Welch love song to a car "455 Rocket." And Ms. Mattea continues to challenge herself, trying her hand at songwriting with Vezner and others and producing some of her work.

"It's always been a real gut level thing for me," she said of her career, "listening to that inner voice and following it."

Her instincts permeate her stage performance, according to Jim Santella, who reviewed her October 5 concert with the Buffalo Philharmonic Orchestra.

"It is often said that one can't step into the same river twice," he wrote in the Buffalo News. "If a Kathy Mattea concert has one consistent theme, it is that one must step into the river of life and let it carry you where it will."

Tickets to Ms. Mattea's concert are $30. For tickets, call the Quick Center box office at (203) 254-4010 or toll free at 1-877-ARTS-396 or visit the website, www.quickcenter.com.

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Media Contact: Nancy Habetz, (203) 254-4000, ext. 2647, nhabetz@fairfield.edu

Posted on October 4, 2002

Vol. 35, No. 82