On Friday night, the Charleston Light Opera Guild welcomes Kathy Mattea to its theatre on Tennessee Avenue as part of the theater troupe’s 70-year celebration.
It promises to be a night of country music from one of West Virginia’s favorite daughters, with maybe a few memories thrown in for good measure.
Mattea is a Light Opera Guild veteran, but she got into the guild in the first place because she was maybe just a little too smart for her own good.
“I skipped a grade,” the country singer said.
The downside to being bright was that most of her classmates and friends all got their driver’s license a year before she did.
“There was this one summer where all my friends were getting their driver’s licenses, so they could get jobs, while I was still 15,” she said.
Mattea said her mother told her she was worried about her daughter being stuck at home all summer with nothing to do.
“I think she was really worried about being home alone with me,” the singer joked. “I was like a border collie with nothing to do.”
Her mother saw a casting call announcement in the newspaper for a summer production of “Godspell.” The Charleston Light Opera Guild show was part of George Washington High School’s summer theater program.
Mattea’s mother asked if she was interested in going to the audition.
“I thought it sounded like fun,” the singer said.
Her mother drove her from Cross Lanes to the high school in Charleston, where she tried out for a part, any part.
“And I didn’t make it,” Mattea said.
But she’d come close. Mattea had been marked down as a first alternate.
“The first day of rehearsals, somebody didn’t show up,” the singer said. “They called the house at 8 in the morning to see if I still wanted to do it.”
Mattea’s mother drove her right over.
“I spent the summer doing ‘Godspell,’” she said, “That show introduced me to everybody in the Light Opera Guild. I found my passion and from then on, I was eaten up with it.”
Guild rehearsals back in the summer of 1974 were a lot like guild rehearsals now. There was a slow build with readthroughs, sing-throughs and figuring out choreography and blocking on the stage.
“Then as you got closer to the show, it was more and more intense,” she said. “You’d hear and see the sets being built on the other side of the building.”
The members of the guild took the 15-year-old Mattea under their wings. They made sure the high school student got a ride home from rehearsal. They let her parents know where she was.
“And then we would all come together as this ragtag crew of people,” Mattea said. “Toward the end of the show, we each held a tiny piece of the production, but when we put it together it was somehow more than the sum of its parts.”
All of the long hours and hard work were distilled into a 90-minute show before a live audience and a warm crowd.
“It was the most satisfying thing in the world,” she said. “You got to see what you’d contributed to.”
All the memories from the show weren’t good. Mattea remembered having her face painted and getting her picture taken for The Charleston Gazette.
“It was right after I’d had the worst haircut in my life the week before,” she said. “I was mortified.”
That one thing aside, the show was a lot of fun.
Other shows with the guild followed, though Mattea said she couldn’t remember them all. It was a long time ago, but she was glad to get to come back and share some of her music to support the light opera guild as it kicks off its 70th year.
Mattea promised an intimate show, with many of the songs she’s known for, along with some of the material from her latest record, “Pretty Bird.”
She’ll be performing with her longtime sideman and friend, guitarist Bill Cooley.
“Bill and I have this kind of language on stage,” she said. “It’s part of what makes us work so well together.”
It will be a busy weekend for Mattea. Along with performing at the guild theater on Friday, she’ll be in town through Sunday as she guest hosts Mountain Stage.
Mattea said she was supposed to host the radio program a couple of times in the coming year.
“It’s a real honor for me to come help out and for them to let me hold the baby for a while,” she said.