Kathy Mattea makes UConn winter a little warmer

Regaling her audience with charming personal tales in between sets, Kathy Mattea and Bill Cooley provided a heartfelt and cozy evening cabaret show to the Jorgensen audience on Saturday, February 11. Mattea is a Grammy Award-winning country recording artist, and often collaborates with Nashville guitarist and longtime friend Bill Cooley. (Akshara Thejaswi/The Daily Campus)

On Saturday, Feb. 11, at 8 p.m., Grammy Award-winning country singer Kathy Mattea appeared on stage, alongside her guitarist and friend Bill Cooley, at the Jorgensen Center for the Performing Arts. They styled their event “The Acoustic Living Room”, featuring a wide variety of both popular and less-known songs and stories.

Acclaimed country singer Mattea filled Jorgensen with music, memories, and unabashed honesty.

The evening took on an easygoing, intimate atmosphere. Set in typical cabaret fashion with candlelit tables at the front of the auditorium and open access to snacks and beverages from the bar, Mattea and Cooley performed for their audience with refreshing openness and sincerity.

“This whole night is about being real, not perfect,” Mattea said early on in the night. Her comment encapsulated the night in a nutshell.

The duo had a clear dynamic – Mattea did all the talking while Cooley stood strong and silent by her side, guitar always in hand, nodding along to her remarks and strumming along to her vocals. Cooley is one of Nashville’s favorite and well-known sidemen. He and Mattea have played together for 26 years.

True to its name, the night featured just as many stories as it did songs. Mattea went on to explain the performance obstacles she has faced in her long and rich career. She revealed that for a period of time, she feared that her voice was declining, its technical and musical capacities diminishing.

Wondering if this was an inevitable result of age and many years of singing, she refused to go out without a fight. She took some time off from the stage and found a vocal coach. During her brief respite, she rediscovered her powerful gift and honed her voice with newfound confidence.

For six months afterward, Mattea and Cooley would get together every Thursday in her living room and rehearse together. The songs they worked on there became the songs they would play on “The Acoustic Living Room” tour, the whole intent of which is to replicate the relaxed and authentic ambiance of their rehearsals.

The two opened with “Evenin’” and “Ready for the Storm,” setting the tone for night with themes of loss and resolve to carry on.

They followed with an instrumental called “Butterfingers,” prior to which Mattea explained that Bill had taught her this song and that without him she wouldn’t be able to play guitar. She prefaced their performance by warning that she might mess up, and sure enough when she did, she acknowledged it and laughed it off, carrying on with a rowdy, “Three, four!”

Other highlights of the evening included “Chocolate on My Tongue,” “Ode to Billie Joe” (after which Mattea wryly remarked she’d never had her audience clap along to a song about suicide), “Go Rise Again” (where Mattea switched to banjo), “Eighteen Wheels and a Dozen Roses,” “455 Rocket” (featuring Cooley on perhaps the most thrilling guitar solo of the night), “Where’ve You Been?” and “This Love Will Carry” as one of the encores.

Every song had a story beyond its lyrics, from Mattea’s early life in West Virginia to the irony of her mother’s experience with Alzheimer’s, when she forgot her inhibitions and sang with pure joy. Above all, Mattea’s honesty rang true, touching the hearts of many of her audience.

“I liked the quaintness of the cabaret setting,” said Gary Anderson of Windsor, CT, a longtime fan and follower of Mattea who has pictures from meeting the artist twenty years ago. “We love the Jorgensen, it’s just a beautiful place.”

“I like the way she talks to the audience, she really makes you feel like you’re part of it,” his wife, Linda, said. The couple added that they go to see Mattea every time she comes to Connecticut.


Brian Roach is a campus correspondent for The Daily Campus.  He can be reached via email at brian.roach@uconn.edu.