Country Music Star Kathy Mattea Performs at Irvine Barclay Theatre
Two-time Grammy Award winner, Kathy Mattea creates a unique tapestry of gorgeous, heart-wrenching songs.
Saturday, March 30, 2019 at 8pm
Tickets: $38, $45, $100
Irvine Barclay Theatre - 4242 Campus Drive, Irvine CA
www.thebarclay.org | 949.854.4646
Two-time Grammy Award winner, Kathy Mattea is a true creative spirit and a genuine storyteller. Twice named Female Vocalist of the Year by the Country Music Association, she is an artist whose music reaches across boundaries. At ease with both country tradition and free-ranging innovation, Mattea intertwines Celtic, gospel and bluegrass influences with the folk and acoustic music, to create a unique tapestry of gorgeous, heart-wrenching songs.
Kathy Mattea: Guitar, Vocals; Bill Cooley: Guitar; Fred Carpenter: Fiddle, Mandolin; Eric Frey: Bass
Kathy Mattea has enjoyed the kind of success many artists only dream of: two Grammy wins, four CMA Awards, five gold albums, and a platinum collection of her greatest hits. Mattea’s dream almost ended, though, when she entered her 50s and found her voice changing. As much as she wanted to ignore the warning signs, there was no getting around the fact that she simply wasn’t hitting the notes she used to. Taking the stage and giving anything less than her best wasn’t an option, so as far as Mattea was concerned, there were only two choices: re-learn to sing, or walk away forever.
“The hardest thing was facing the question of whether or not I could continue,” she reflects. “I had to be willing to come to a ‘no,’ to accept that my singing voice just might not be something I enjoyed anymore. There were days when I believed it was very likely I wouldn’t be able to go on.”
Mattea persevered, though, undergoing intensive vocal training and emerging with the most poignant album of her career, Pretty Bird. Recorded over the course of a year with roots music wizard Tim O’Brien at the helm, Pretty Bird draws its strength not only from Mattea’s touching performances, but also from her uncanny ability to weave seemingly disparate material into a cohesive whole. These are the songs that helped her reclaim her voice, and though they’re drawn from a wide swath of writers, genres and eras, she inhabits each as fully as if it were her own. Exquisitely arranged and delivered with the kind of nuance that can only come from a lifetime of heartbreak and triumph, the album is a welcome reintroduction to one of country and Americana music’s most enduring and beloved figures.
A West Virginia native, Mattea moved to Nashville in the late 1970s to pursue her goal of singing professionally. She signed her first record deal in 1983 and achieved modest chart success with a pair of early releases, but her true commercial breakout arrived with her critically acclaimed third album, Walk the Way the Wind Blows. That record produced her first radio hits, and its follow-up, 1987’s Untasted Honey, was the first of five Mattea releases to be certified gold. Untasted Honey contained back-to-back No. 1 country singles, as did 1989’s Willow in the Wind, which also earned back-to-back CMA Female Vocalist of the Year awards and a Grammy for Best Female Vocal Performance. The Los Angeles Times called Mattea “a performer of limitless potential,” while The Washington Post hailed her as “one of Nashville's finest song interpreters,” and People described her as “warm, strong, smart and generally splendid.” Over the next three decades, she would record nearly a dozen more albums exploring country, folk, Celtic and gospel music; earn her second Grammy Award; top the Bluegrass Albums chart and garner an additional Grammy nomination for “Coal,” her Marty Stuart-produced exploration of coal mining songs; and collaborate with everyone from Jackson Browne to Townes Van Zandt.
By the time she entered her 50s, Mattea’s status as a legend was secure, but the one thing she’d always been able to rely on felt like it was in serious danger of slipping away.
“I kept noticing this shaky quality in my voice,” she says. “I’d be onstage going for a note in a song I knew like the back of my hand and it wouldn’t come out. The way I knew how to sing just wasn’t working anymore.”
So began a years-long odyssey Mattea describes as her “dark night of the soul,” a trying time of personal anguish and professional uncertainty that threatened to silence her permanently. Some nights her voice would be there in all its glory; other nights, inexplicably, notes would lie just beyond her grasp. The harder she tried, the more she struggled, and Mattea was forced to reckon with the possibility that her career might be over.
“I kept running from it, but eventually I realized I had to stop and deal with the issue head on,” she explains.
The classically-trained Mattea dove into an exhaustive regimen with a new, jazz-centric vocal coach, developing a fresh approach to singing and forcing herself to break habits she’d relied on for her entire career. Most importantly, she came to recognize the beauty in how her voice was changing. Age had helped open Mattea’s lower register like never before, and songs she’d previously shied away from suddenly came to new, vibrant life.
“It was astounding to me,” she reflects. “That’s when I really felt this vocal rebirthing process, and it gave me great joy because there’s nothing that’s ever felt more right to me in my life than singing and making music.”
As her confidence returned, Mattea and her longtime guitarist/collaborator Bill Cooley decided to take their weekly living room jam sessions on the road, performing an extensive, stripped-down duo tour of unexpected material and old favorites. It took courage for Mattea to get back on stage in the midst of her vocal training, but the work paid off, and as she learned to let go of the idea of “perfection,” she stripped the power from the fear that had gripped her for so long and kept her from the stage. All that was left was to return to the studio.
“I woke up in my bed at 2am one night and realized, ‘Oh my God. I have to call Tim O’Brien,’” Mattea remembers. “Tim is like a brother to me. We’ve worked together on each other’s records for years, and he’s one of the most comfortable, patient, safe people to collaborate with that I’ve ever known.”
While Pretty Bird certainly reflects that comfort, it also reflects the adventurous streak that’s long defined Mattea’s choice in song. The album opens with a playful take on Oliver Wood’s sultry “Chocolate on My Tongue” before moving seamlessly into a soulful rendition of Bobbie Gentry’s “Ode to Billie Joe.” The Mary Gauthier-penned “Mercy Now” finds Mattea offering up a tender prayer for understanding in these troubled times, while Joan Osborne’s “St. Teresa” takes on new life in light of the ravages that addiction has wrought on the singer’s home state. The arrangements on the album are earthy and organic, but its most affecting moments arrive in stripped-down songs like the British traditional “He Moves Through the Fair” and the arresting title track, a Hazel Dickens tune that boldly closes the record with Mattea’s rich, a cappella voice. It’s that voice that saved her, and it’s through singing Mattea hopes she can help others, too.
“I think there’s something sacred in this secular act of lifting our voices together,” she explains. “When we sing together, it doesn’t matter who you are or where you’re from or who you voted for. We’re all having the same experience and expressing ourselves the same way, and that’s where I want to plant my flag right now.”
More than simply rejuvenating her career, recovering her voice presented Kathy Mattea with a new lease on her humanity. With an album as powerful as Pretty Bird, it’s clear she intends to make the most of it.
Bill Cooley (Guitar)."In what is surely one of the longest and musically richest partnerships in Nashville, Bill Cooley has been playing guitar in Kathy Mattea's band for 20 years." So wrote the dean of Nashville's music critics, Robert K. Oermann, eight years ago. As Kathy and Bill start their 28th year together, they are on the road with a new band in support of Kathy’s latest release, Pretty Bird, playing new material they've worked up at their regular Thursday afternoon rehearsals, as well as her classic hits and requests.
Bill has had a 40-year career as a working professional, and recently released his 4th solo CD, In Search of Home, which was named to Premier Guitar magazine’s Editor’s List. Originally from Santa Barbara, California, he moved to Nashville in 1985, and a dozen years later was called "one of Nashville's most respected sidemen" by Guitar Player magazine. He has toured and recorded with Merle Haggard, Reba McEntire, Alan Jackson and Hal Ketchum, in addition to Kathy. As a songwriter, he's had cuts by Kathy and Reba, among others. As an arranger, Bill has played an important role on Kathy's albums, including the Grammy-nominated Coal, and 2013’s Calling Me Home, where Kathy explored her Appalachian heritage. After two years of intense work, Kathy and Bill have just recorded Pretty Bird, with Tim O'Brien producing. Their partnership continues; it is still musically rich, creative, and stronger than ever, 28 years on.
Fred Carpenter (Fiddle, Mandolin) started in music with 10 years of classical violin, switched to fiddling at age 17, and recorded his first solo fiddle album with Mark O’Connor at age 20. In 1982, he joined the Tony Rice Unit, touring for several years and recording two albums. Fred has called Nashville home for 30 years, and during that time has toured with several artists, including Emmylou Harris, George Strait, Ronnie Milsap, Suzy Bogguss, Paul Overstreet, and of course, Kathy Mattea! In 1988, Fred also started a small Violin Shop in Nashville, offering instrument repair, restoration, sales, rentals, and in general, all things fiddle!! Now celebrating 30 years, The Violin Shop has become the place to go for fiddlers everywhere. Fred has toured with Kathy whenever possible over the past 12 years in several configurations, including the 7-piece band, the Christmas tour, concerts with symphony orchestras, and as a quartet…or 2… or 3!
Eric Frey (Bass). Hailing from Clay, Alabama, Eric’s style was forged in the campﬁres of countless bluegrass festivals and jams that his Dad (also a bass player) used to drag him to. On his 22nd birthday, he moved to Louisiana to join The Red Stick Ramblers, and ventured the globe playing their brand of Cajun gypsy swing. Since then, he has played on over 50 recordings, including six Grammy nominated albums, notably Linda Ronstadt and Ann Savoy’s 2006 record, Adieu False Heart, and The Band Courtbouillon’s self-titled recording, which won the Best Regional Roots category in 2012. He received a nomination for his work on The Revelers’ album, Get Ready. His songs have been used in television and film, including HBO’s Treme, in which he also appeared as an actor in three seasons. These days, you can ﬁnd him in Nashville playing gigs in any style imaginable, remodeling houses, and playing old-time banjo with his ﬁddling wife, Clelia.
About Irvine Barclay Theatre
Since opening its doors in 1990, Irvine Barclay Theatre has emerged as one of California's most imaginative performing arts showcases. A unique collaborative venture among the City of Irvine, the University of California, Irvine, and the private sector, the theatre has a reputation for wide-ranging programming in the fields of contemporary dance, music, and theater arts. Performances take place in the 750-seat "jewel box" theatre which is renowned for its intimate atmosphere and superb acoustics. Visit www.thebarclay.org to learn about our exciting new season!