Tune in Friday, November11 to PCN-TV and watch folk musician Tom Breiding perform songs and original compositions which share the history of the coal and steel industries in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. Breiding currently tours as a member of three different bands and as a solo artist. In the past two years, he has produced five albums for his independent label AmeriSon Records and has performed nationwide. Breiding also is the founder and host of the AmeriSon Ballroom Folk Series. We caught up with Tom and asked him about his music and his experience taping Humanities on the Road.
You taped your episode at Pittsburgh’s Rivers of Steel Pump House which has a rich history relating to the labor and coal mining industries. What was it like to perform there?
By the time we recorded Humanities on the Road, I was quite familiar with the history of the Pump House and I had visited several times, but I cannot tell you how moved I was when I first realized that it was the actual site of the Battle of Homestead, the most famous of all labor events in American history. I honestly didn't know that such a visible remnant of that battle site even existed. It was a great honor for the folks at Rivers of Steel to invite me and host my show.
The songs you write explore coal mining history and the miners' struggle to achieve the "American Dream." Can you tell our readers why these themes and stories are important to you?
You can't grow up in West Virginia, not even its Northern Panhandle, without feeling some connection to the coal mining industry and its history. I grew up in Wheeling, WV, which was once a small, but vibrant and thriving city. During the 1980s I watched the downtown area dwindle away to nothing. I was disheartened then, and I am still saddened by it today. As I grew older and developed my songwriting skills, I was naturally compelled to write about it, particularly after realizing that the problems of Main Street USA were not exclusive to the region I where I grew up. I had several friends who grew up in mining families and discussions about the mining issues of the time weren't uncommon in my own family. I became more interested when I learned of the history on my wife's side of the family - her grandfather died at a young age from a mining accident.
Was music always a big part of your life?
I always go back to my childhood years in the early '70s and how I was moved by those old radio ballads - American Pie, Brandy, Midnight Train to Georgia and the like. The idea of telling stories through song always came naturally but it took many years for me to develop this simple process into the craft of writing effective songs.
You’ve been a part of the PHC’s Commonwealth Speaker program for years. Tell us why you keep coming back for more.
I am blessed to be a Commonwealth Speaker with the PA Humanities Council. It is always important for me to share my songs and stories with an audience who appreciates it. I have met great people through this program. The audiences for my Commonwealth Speaker shows always consist of civic-minded, pro-active individuals with great histories of their own. It is a pleasure to share my songs with them and I love when they share their own stories with me.
Sing along to songs of Tom Breiding and learn about the coal and steel industries of Pennsylvania! Watch “Steeltowns, Coalfields and the Unbroken Circle” on PCN-TV this Friday, November 11 at 6pm. Watch it again on November 12 at 2pm and November 14 at 10am. Visit the show page for more information and resources. Missed the episode on PCN-TV? This episode will be available on our YouTube page after November 14.