Cross posted from Pruning Shears.

On Saturday, October 12th there will be a concert at the Southgate House in Newport, Kentucky to raise money to help fight mountaintop removal coal mining. Details on the Music for the Mountains 2 concert and its accompanying compilation album are here. It is supported by Ohio Citizen Action (OCA) and Kentuckians for the Commonwealth (KFTC), and I spoke with OCA’s Melissa English earlier in the week to find out more.

Dan: Tell me about Music For the Mountains.

Melissa: Music For the Mountains started several years ago when Mark Utley, who is a personal friend and also in a band with me called Magnolia Mountain, thought that he may want to try his hand at doing a benefit event. And he wanted to do it on the specifically on the subject of mountaintop removal coal mining because he had recently become acquainted with it. And the more he read, the more he dug into it, the angrier he became, the more frustrated he became, the more outraged he became, and the more he wanted to turn all that energy into something positive. This is what he did with it.

D: And is he a member of a group or does he run a group, or did he just do this as an individual?

Music For the Mountains

Music For the Mountains

M: He did this as an individual. He looked at what his own personal resources were, and he wasn’t made of money. So he couldn’t make a big, fat contribution to a group that was fighting mountaintop removal coal mining. But he was a musician, and he knew a lot of other musicians, a lot of musicians from Kentucky and other areas where mountaintop removal is happening. And he decided to use those resources collectively to make a difference. Which is what Ohio Citizen Action and Kentuckians for the Commonwealth do as well.

D: How did Ohio Citizen Action and Kentuckians for the Commonwealth get involved from the start of an individual project?

M: We are the two organizations closest to Cincinnati that work on mountaintop removal coal mining. So we were the natural beneficiaries of his efforts.

D: So from having known Mark personally and also being a member of Ohio Citizen Action, then, that is how your groups came to be involved?

M: Right.

D: OK. And this is going to be the second one, correct?

M: Well, it’s the second one Mark’s done. Before Mark got involved I did one, I think it was back in 2009. It was on a much smaller scale because Mark, God bless him, he’s basically done this as a volunteer. But he’s made it his part time/full time job, and he’s been able to put a lot more time and effort into it and make it way grander. So technically it’s the third one, but it’s the second one he’s done. I’m not quibbling, I’m just grateful he’s doing it.

D: And it’s the second one consecutively, there was a gap for a few years, right?

M: Right, well there was the 2009 one I did, and then he did one in 2011 and then there was the gap, and now we’re doing another one.

D: OK. And how does Ohio Citizen Action and Kentuckians for the Commonwealth tie in to this year’s edition?

M: We’re both going to have tables at the event and we’re both helping to put the event on. We’ve helped to put together the group of speakers who are going to come and offer testimony about life in Appalachia under the thumb of Big Coal, and also of course helping to get the word out about it.

D: There’s going to be tables there? Is that during the concert? Is there going to be a program before and then the concert? Or is it going to be while the concert is going on, you’ll have your information and your tables available?

M: My understanding is, and I could be wrong about this, is that we’re going to have the tables set up in the big room. This is what we did the last time. Of course it’s a different big room so I don’t know if we’re going to be doing it exactly the same. The information tables for both groups and also Greenpeace, which is helping with the event, will be set up in the big room. And actually to kick off the entire event we are going to be doing a thirty minute screening of the new film from Mari Lynn Evans called Blood on the Mountain. She’s done lots of excellent documentaries about Appalachia, Appalachian people, coal, mountaintop removal coal mining. And so she’s going to be screening a little bit of her film, and then we’re going to have a little discussion. And that I believe is going to happen in the lounge. So that’s not going to be happening in the big room. But then there’s going to be an opportunity during the night on each of the three stages for speakers to come up and do a few minutes. Like I said, to offer testimony and to share some information about the groups and the issue.

D: Does either group have any sort of legislative agenda on mountaintop removal? Or is there any other way the group is working in a way to either get activists involved on a local or state level on this issue?

M: Well Kentuckians for the Commonwealth is actually – and again, you might want to talk to somebody there, and I can put you in touch [UPDATE: Joe Gallenstein of KFTC responded to my inquiry with this and this among others] – is working on I believe at least one statewide bill and also a federal bill. What we’re doing now is more public awareness and working on the demand side to reduce Ohio’s dependence on mountaintop removal coal. One of the things about Ohio Citizen Action is that we are a canvas-based organization. So we send individuals out into communities knocking on doors. And also we have a phone canvas to educate our members about the issues on which we’re working and makes them aware of different opportunities to make a difference.

D: Are there any other sites or any other resources you’d like to direct people to if they’d like more information on mountaintop removal in general or about the concert coming up in a couple weeks in particular?

M: Well, ILoveMountains.org is a great one, and both Kentuckians for the Commonwealth and our web site have additional resources where you can learn way more than you would ever want to know. And I would encourage people to go to their libraries too. There have been some fantastic books, some of them just pictorial. And what a very impactful story you can get just from looking at pictures of these sites, especially over time. How they’ve been degraded and moon-ified if you want to call it that. It looks like a moon landscape when the miners are done. Many fine books have been written on the subject.

D: Is there anything else you’d like to say?

M: No, I just hope people enjoy themselves. We want to provide a good mix of education and entertainment. We don’t want to bring people down because a horrible practice that is devastating – people need to know that – but this is a celebration. We hope people can take away a little bit of the message but remember having a great time and helping out a great cause.

For a taste of the music next weekend, here is Mister Peabody Struck Again by Wonky Tonk.