Coal Country, a play opening at New York City’s Public Theater on March 3, weaves together the stories of people devastated by the 2010 Upper Big Branch mining disaster in West Virginia that left 29 coal miners dead.
Written by Jessica Blank and Erik Jensen, the play features songs composed by Steve Earle, which he will perform onstage between the spoken-word monologues during the production’s nearly four-week run. He refers to himself as “a Greek chorus with a guitar,” in a statement about the project.
On May 22, New West will release Ghosts of West Virginia, an album from Steve Earle & the Dukes primarily comprised of the songs he penned for the musical documentary.
To commemorate the play’s opening, the Public Theater put together a clip, premiering below, of Earle performing the album’s first bluegrass-tinged single, “Devil Put the Coal in the Ground.”
On the album and in the play, Earle gives voice to the miners. “I thought that, given the way things are now, it was maybe my responsibility to make a record that spoke to and for people who didn’t vote the way that I did,” he said in a statement.
“One of the dangers that we’re in is if people like me keep thinking that everyone who voted for Trump is a racist or an asshole, then we’re fucked, because it’s simply not true. So this is one move toward something that might take a generation to change. I wanted to do something where that dialogue could begin. I said I wanted to speak to people that didn’t necessarily vote the way that I did, but that doesn’t mean we don’t have anything in common. We need to learn how to communicate with each other. My involvement in this project is my little contribution to that effort. And the way to do that — and to do it impeccably — is simply to honor those guys who died at Upper Big Branch.”
Ghosts of West Virginia will be available through digital retailers, on CD and standard black vinyl. A limited yellow & blue West Virginia Swirl colored LP edition will be available at independent retailers, while a run of 500 copies of a smoke/coal-colored autographed vinyl edition is available for pre-order now via New West’s website.