Local scene: Tom Breiding sings for miners; Mac Martin retires
September 17, 2015 12:00 AM
Singer-songwriter Tom Breiding release show for his 13th album, "River, Rails or Road," is part of Burghsong on Saturday in Squirrel Hill.
Mac Martin and the Dixie Travelers will play their farewell concert tonight.
By Scott Mervis / Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
On his acclaimed “The Unbroken Circle” in 2007, Tom Breiding offered a concept album that dug into the rich and troubled history of coal mining in his native West Virginia.
Four years later, the McMurray-based singer-songwriter came up from the mines to sing the praises of California’s natural wonders on “Beauty in Paradise.”
Now, with his 13th album, “River, Rails or Road,” he’s back in Appalachia, focusing on the struggles of working-class people today with songs like “Peabody Lied” and “Footprints in the Coal Dust.”
He hadn’t intended to write another album focused on labor issues, but “The Unbroken Circle” opened so many doors for him.
“I’ve become involved hands-on with the modern-day issues of the mine workers union and the extraction industries and just the issues of Appalachia itself, this poverty-stricken area that has basically fed and fueled our country for well over a century and yet it remains the poorest of all regions of our country,” he says.
The liner notes were written by Julia Flint, who trained him for his current job as immersion trips coordinator at Appalachian Institute at Wheeling Jesuit University, where he brings students from around the country on tours through the region. She explains that a September 2012 rally for steel workers at a mill where her father worked was a turning point for him.
“Through my job, I’m dealing firsthand with the impoverished and with the charity organizations and the union and the people who have been affected by the industry,” he says. “My fight, along with the mine workers to get these pensions and benefits for retired miners, that is a cause that has seeped into my soul. When you meet these people it’s hard not to get upset about their plight.”
Upon meeting the retired miners, the songs poured out of him. He says he looked to Pete Seeger and Woody Guthrie “as a compass,” inspired by how they took on so many issues throughout their careers as songwriters/activists.
Asked how the songs are received by a general audience, he says, “At my age, I no longer have to be strategic in trying to advance my career. It is what it is and I am so content with it. And I think that shows in my performances now. I go to do my thing and I try to share things that I think will connect with them, but at the same time, I don’t have any constraints on the material I play. It’s a very comfortable place for me to be right now.”
The CD comes with a 17-minute documentary DVD, “River, Rails or Road: Tom Breiding's Wheeling,” by Jeff Sewald, that tells the story of how he grew up in Wheeling and how his hometown’s economic demise affected his songwriting. There is also a music video by Gary DeMoss and Phil Smith of the United Mine Workers of America.
The release show is part of Burghsong, a new series of intimate concerts created by Alexander Stanton, Ben Shannon and Christopher Mark Jones that pairs a local artist with a touring artist. Mr. Breiding will perform with Ben Bedford of Illinois on Saturday.
Concerts are scheduled for the third Saturday of September through May at the Sunburst School of Music, second floor at 5843 Forbes Ave., Squirrel Hill. Burghsong concerts are all ages and BYOB for 21-plus. Tickets are available for purchase by the entire season, half season, or by individual shows. Advance tickets are recommended, as space is limited. Doors open at 7 p.m. with music beginning at 7:30. Visit www.burghsong.com.
Mac Martin & The Dixie Travelers will play their farewell concert tonight as part of the Calliope series in the Roots Cellar of the Pittsburgh Center for the Arts.
The 90-year-old bandleader, who grew up in Oakland, is considered to be among the pioneers of bluegrass. He started playing country music as a teenager and, after serving in the Navy, returned home to form the Pike County Boys in 1948. The Dixie Travelers, adopting a bluegrass sound, formed in the mid-’50s and took up residence at Walsh’s Lounge in East Liberty.
Unlike the national bluegrass pioneers, he chose not to tour nationally in spite of the band’s name, as he was raising a family of five kids.
“It was the right thing to do,” he told the PG in 2005. “I had the kids and my parents were getting up in age and I needed to be around. That’s why I stayed here.”
Instead, he kept the books at A&P grocery stores before taking work as controller at Volkwein Music from 1969 until his retirement in 1995.
During the years, the Dixie Travelers played with The Kingston Trio, Ralph Stanley, David Grisman and the Country Gentlemen at Walsh’s Tavern.
In 2001, the International Bluegrass Music Association proclaimed Mr. Martin one of the founders of bluegrass. Mayor Bill Peduto has declared today to be Mac Martin Day in Pittsburgh.
The concert is at 7:30 p.m. Tickets are available online at www.calliopehouse.org or by calling the Calliope office at 412-361-1915. Tickets are $17; $8.50 with full-time student ID.
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