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Steve Earle Tells The Story Of A West Virginian Mining Disaster Through Song

Steve Earle and the Dukes, Electric Lady Studios.
Jacob Blickenstaff
Courtesy of the artist
Steve Earle and the Dukes, Electric Lady Studios.

Steve Earle knows how to tell a story. Talking to him is a whirlwind of names and places, moments that changed him, songs that moved him, lots of laughs, sharp observations and little bits of wisdom. He's someone who knows the value of storytelling as a way to find our shared humanity. And recently, he used that talent to write the music for a play called Coal Country. He collaborated with playwrights Jessica Blank and Erik Jensen, as well as Oskar Eustis, the Artistic Director of the Public Theater in New York, to tell the story of the Upper Big Branch Mine disaster that took 29 lives a decade ago in West Virginia.

Today, you'll hear him talk about why it was so important to tell this story and what his role was in the stage production. He also plays songs from Coal Country that will be included on the forthcoming Steve Earle & The Dukes album, Ghosts of West Virginia. Steve Earle tells a lot of other stories too — like the one about Gordon Lightfoot and the one about Johnny Cash — but first, we start off with a performance of a song from Ghosts of West Virginia, a special World Cafe recording of "Devil Put the Coal in the Ground." Hear it all in the player above.

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Raina Douris, an award-winning radio personality from Toronto, Ontario, comes to World Cafe from the CBC (Canadian Broadcasting Corporation), where she was host and writer for the daily live, national morning program Mornings on CBC Music. She is also involved with Canada's highest music honors: Since 2017, she has hosted the Polaris Music Prize Gala, for which she is also a jury member, and she has also been a jury member for the Juno Awards. Douris has also served as guest host and interviewer for various CBC Music and CBC Radio programs, and red carpet host and interviewer for the Juno Awards and Canadian Country Music Association Awards, as well as a panelist for such renowned CBC programs as Metro Morning, q and CBC News.
Since 2017, John Myers has been the producer of NPR's World Cafe, which is produced by WXPN at the University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia. Previously he spent about eight years working on the other side of Philly at WHYY as a producer on the staff of Fresh Air with Terry Gross. John was also a member of the team of public radio veterans recruited to develop original programming for Audible and has worked extensively as a freelance producer. His portfolio includes work for the Eastern State Penitentiary Historic Site, The Association for Public Art and the radio documentary, Going Black: The Legacy of Philly Soul Radio. He's taught radio production to preschoolers and college students and, in the late 90's, spent a couple of years traveling around the country as a roadie for the rock band Huffamoose.