WATCH: Tyler Childers Talks About the Future of Coal Country in Throwback Interview

by Clayton Edwards

Tyler Childers’ music is steeped in the sounds of Appalachia. His vocal delivery and the tinges of bluegrass that run through many of his songs put his Kentucky roots front and center. Additionally, he has a long history of giving back to his community. In the past, he’s helped raise money and awareness for several causes in his home state. Most recently, he was involved in the cleanup effort after floods struck Eastern Kentucky in August. In short, his roots and pride for his community run deep.

In 2018, Tyler Childers was in Colorado for a taping of eTown. During a short break, he sat down with eTown host Nick Forster. During that chat, Childers talked about Eastern Kentucky.

Tyler Childers on Coal Country

Childers grew up in Lawrence County, Kentucky in Coal Country. His father worked in the mines and his mother was a nurse. During the interview, Forster asked Tyler Childers about Eastern Kentucky. “When people who aren’t from there talk about Coal Country, usually they talk about tthere are that there’s not as many jobs as there used to be and there’s an epidemic of drug abuse going on. Those are the things that people who don’t know think about… A lot more happens [there] than those two things, right?”

“Yeah, a lot more happens than those two things. Ya know, when there’s bad weather, people want to complain about it,” Tyler Childers said.

Later in the interview, Forster asked Tyler Childers if he knew people in Eastern Kentucky who were having a hard time finding hope. Childers took a moment to think and replied, “Yeah, just as much there is everywhere.”

Then, he started talking about the positive things going on in Eastern Kentucky. “There’s a lot of really great things to be said about where I’m from,” he said. “There’s a lot of people who are starting to take initiative.”

Tyler Childers continued saying, “For a long time if you weren’t going to be a coal miner, doctor, or a lawyer a lot of our best and brightest moved elsewhere…to find job opportunities.” Childers then compared the region to soil that has had its nutrients sapped and never replenished. However, he said, that’s starting to change.

“There’s a lot of people starting to care about home. Ya know, taking pride in where they’re from,” Childers said. There’s a company that’s making solar panels and installing them in Ashland. It takes people like that to take a risk in a place and start creating job opportunities.”

An Economy Based on Coal

Tyler Childers said that the entire region took a hit when coal mines started closing. “Our whole entire economy was based around coal. Even if you weren’t directly in coal. If you were some gas station that sold biscuits and gravy on the way to a place and you were depending on all these miners going to work to stop into your station.”

Tyler Childers then took a moment to look at the history of the region. Everyone thought the earliest settlers in Kentucky were crazy for moving there, but they did and they thrived. At this point, he said, the region’s residents took on the identity of frontiersmen. Then, when they realized how much money they could make selling timber, they became loggers. After that, they discovered coal. This gave the region a new identity. “Now, we’re at a point where we can’t let this identity that we’ve not really even had that long hold us back. It’s going to take some change.”