05/20/2010

Alan Jackson helping Montcoal disaster families

Alan Jackson helping Montcoal disaster families
May 19, 2010 / The Charleston Gazette

By Bill Lynch
Staff writer

Country superstar donating concert proceeds to fallen miners fund

CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- "It's just a small thing for me to do," said Alan Jackson.

Only "small" doesn't seem like the right word. Saturday night, the country star performs at the Charleston Civic Center, along with Josh Turner and Chris Young. Weeks ago, Jackson decided to dedicate the evening to the families of the miners killed in the Upper Big Branch Mine in Raleigh County.

Profits from the show will be donated to the Montcoal Mining Disaster Fund administered by the West Virginia Council of Churches, a group that also administered a fund for the families of the miners from the Sago Mine disaster in 2006.

Before the show, Jackson will meet with family members of the miners killed in the disaster, and nearly 200 rescue workers from the Upper Big Branch Mine have been invited to attend the performance through the West Virginia Office of Miner's Health Safety and Training.

None of this is exactly a small undertaking, but the country performer says he's done this kind of thing before, dedicated a show to a cause, to survivors of disasters and misfortune. It seems to happen a lot.

"Ever year, there's some tragedy that hits you at home or gets close to your heart," he said.

The mine disaster happened just as Jackson began his current tour and while he was preparing to release the single, "Hard Hat and a Hammer," from his latest album, "Freight Train." The song was released earlier this month. A video for "Hard Hat and a Hammer" was just completed and should be making the rounds on country music television channels and the Internet in a week or so.

He says he wrote the song as a tribute to working people everywhere. Jackson comes from blue-collar stock. His father worked as a mechanic at the Ford plant in Atlanta, worked until his eyes got bad and took early retirement.

He grew up in Newnan, Ga., a little town outside Atlanta that he says was a lot like Mayberry.

"A typical small town," he said. "With a courthouse and a couple of independent stores around the town square, a few churches. Not much crime."

Jackson says he wrote "Hard Hat and a Hammer" a long time ago. The song was meant as a celebration of the workingmen and their importance to the country. He says that when he wrote the line, "He gives his life and fades away," he wasn't talking about dying on the job. He saw it as a man working his whole life, making his contribution, and then retiring before being replaced by another generation.

He still means the song as a celebration. However, after the loss of life at the Upper Big Branch Mine and even at the Deep Horizon oil rig, he acknowledges the lyrics could be interpreted differently.

"I don't have any personal connection with the miners of the area," Jackson said. "The only connection to the area I've got is my steel player, Robbie Flint, who's been with me for over 20 years."

Flint is from Sylvester, in Boone County.

"He's still got family there," Jackson said. "He grew up connected with miners and the mining industry. When we decided to do the benefit, he came over and told me a lot more about what it meant."

Reaching out seemed like the right thing to do.

Reach Bill Lynch at ly...@wvgazette.com

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