The Augusta Heritage Center of Davis & Elkins College is collaborating with the West Virginia Mine Wars Museum and the Blair Centennial Committee to produce a musical event that remembers and celebrates a critical moment in labor rights history. The concert, slated for 7 p.m. Friday, Sept. 3 at the Charleston Coliseum & Convention Center, will officially kick off the Battle of Blair Mountain Centennial celebration weekend.
Virtuosic blues harmonica player Phil Wiggins, a 2017 NEA National Heritage Fellow, and Augusta folklife coordinator emeritus Gerry Milnes, the two musical powerhouses behind the soundtrack to the movie “Matewan,” will be joined by Heather Hannah, a songwriter and third-generation harmony singer from the coalfields of West Virginia. Appalachian ballad singer Saro-Lynch Thomason will open the performance.
Between musical acts, concertgoers can learn the history of the music surrounding Blair Mountain with short talks by West Virginia State Folklorist Emily Hilliard and beloved vocalist Doris “Lady D” Fields, who grew up in the coal camps of southern West Virginia. Poet and activist Crystal Good will remotely perform her poem, “Civil Up & Rising.”
Before the show, from 4 p.m. to 7 p.m., traditional string bands led by Kim Johnson and Jesse Milnes will perform in the lobby. Master of traditional West Virginian dances Mack Samples will present a dance clinic.
The Battle of Blair Mountain was the culmination of a decades-long labor struggle in the southern West Virginia coalfields. It’s the story of both tremendous struggle and sacrifice. The battle itself marks a triumph of the human spirit against incredible odds. It is the story of mining families banding together to take on coal executives and the corrupt apparatus they had built to violently defend their power and wealth.
Today, a century later, this battle still rings in West Virginia’s mountains. Miners lost that fight on that famous hill, but the sacrifices of those who fought on Blair Mountain laid down a framework for national labor protection that their descendants won.
The Battle of Blair Mountain is a history that can’t just be told; it must also be sung. Music and poetry were more than moral support for striking coal miners; they were a vehicle by which the suppressed history of the Mine Wars and Blair Mountain were passed from one generation to the next.
Tickets are limited and can be purchased online at www.blair100.com. The concert will also live stream on Augusta’s Facebook page and YouTube channel. In light of the recent uptick in COVID-19 cases in West Virginia, the core planning team will request guests to wear masks and social distance. Masks will be available at the kickoff upon request and sanitation stations will be available throughout the venue. Seating has been reduced to half capacity for the concert.