Brian Fields, Retrains Miners; Red Star, Kentucky, Letcher County:
“I work at LKLP, with the WIOA [Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act] Program. We do job training for people. Our shining star program, I call it, is the home program. We hire miners every day, and we’ve been busy trying to help miners get back into a job.
We train them to be linemen, [and] lot of people go into the HVAC program, heating and air, welding, electrical. We have had some luck with people totally changing their career field here. We’ve had people become barbers, law enforcement, and nurses, out of the mines.
Most of them are second, third generation miners. They’ve growed up around work. [And] these guys and gals got a lot of work in ‘em. Their anxiety is from working so hard, to drawing unemployment. They can’t stand it. They want to get back to work ASAP. And the challenge for us is trying to find suitable employment in the area.
[They are] very determined, a little bit shaken, because they don’t know what they’re going to do, but they’re quite easy to work with. You don’t really have to motivate ‘em. They’re very motivated to work.
Six hundred something right now [in the program and it’s] four county wide; Leslie, Knott, Letcher, and Perry. About seventy percent is relocations.
Unfortunately, we do have a lot that just opt to leave for the higher paying wages. But it is sad, and it’s kind of good, all in the same. Hard to see ‘em in the shape they’re in, having to leave their homes and their families, but it’s pretty good to know we had that kind of work force system.
(Region’s economy) Coal is almost history. I do expect it to come back, it always has. [We have] a lot of natural resources, we’ve got a lot of hard-working people here. Things like this is a good example, the Farmers’ Market, the distillery on the corner is a good idea. [It’s] Getting ready to open in the next few weeks. I think it was two gentlemen, got together, and is going to have a moonshine distillery, here in the old KYVA Building. It’s a historical building [in Whitesburg].
The real point is not the moonshine, itself. It’s the tourism part of it. Because, when it’s all said and done, it’s just more of a novelty, than it is a drink. They’re going to have a lot of tourism, a lot of novelty items to sell out there. But that’s just a good idea. I wish we could do a lot more of that type stuff.
[Growing up}, I did a lot of farming. Did a lot of what you could consider the typical mountain stuff. I did a lot of hunting and fishing. My family plays music. I played a lot of music, still do, on the evenings, weekends.
[When I was] fifteen or sixteen, I’d got ready for squirrel season, and we had a lot going around the house. So, I said, ‘Let’s go down there, and walk around a little bit, and see if I can do any good.’ Took a four-wheeler down, rode about a mile and a half from the house. And my dad was working on gutters at the house. He said, ‘I looked up, and see you walking down the railroad track with no shirt on.’
I got in a yellow jackets’ nest, throwed the gun on the ground, stripped the shirt off, come down, bypassed the four-wheeler, and kept going. I was getting out of there! I had to strip. I was wearing a yellow and black jacket at that point. That was my first encounter with a yellow jackets’ nest. Now I know what to look for, when me and him go out. I scan the ground.
Me and my brother [and] my grandpa played music. That’s on my Mom’s side. All my uncles on my Dad’s side are musicians. And my brother, at a young age, just decided he wanted to play guitar, and as he learned, I would kind of hang loose, and pick up a piece here, and a piece there. I just kind of picked it up.
We do what we call festival tours. We hit the Jenkins Days, and the Mountain Heritage.
[My grandfather] played a lot of gospel, a lot of gospel. He passed away two weeks ago. Of course, you know, there’s always usually an argument, when somebody passes away, but the biggest fight was [for] his three Martin guitars that everybody was going after. He retired from the mines, and was a preacher in the church, and played music, all day, ever day.
I’ve got one [uncle], he’s a traveling Bluegrass picker. He actually played some of the music in ‘Coal Miner’s Daughter,’ the square dance. He called the square dance, and played. They had a square dance at the Blackey Community Center, and it showed a little clip of him calling the square dancing. He plays banjo.
(Type of music played) The eighties and nineties radio rock, you know, John Mellencamp, a few Skynyrd, stuff like that. It’s easiest to learn to start out. I call it the Festival Top Ten. You got to be selective with the songs you play.
Farmers’ Market; Usually some people just do it for a pastime. Some of ‘em do it for a living. Now myself, I sell corn. I love raising a garden just ‘cause I like the practice of doing it. Just a tradition --- put up a little bit to eat.
For the most part, even if I don’t need it, I’ll raise a garden, just to keep practice. I had green beans, tomatoes, corn, and watermelons this year.
My son wanted to grow watermelons. He wanted to see how big he could get them. Now, for some reason the watermelons in this area don’t have a very sweet taste, but you can grow ‘em, till you can’t haul ‘em out of here in a truck. And that’s kind of been our game, to see what we do this year. We will not grow cucumbers with watermelons, because they will cross. The best-looking melon ever was, will taste like a cucumber. (Laughs)
(What makes this place special?) This morning is a good example. I really couldn’t tell you how much I sold, because I was too busy a-talking, to everybody I seen. Most of them I knowed, some of ‘em I didn’t, but I know ‘em now. So, there’s no strangers here.
No matter where we go, we’re still here. I went off to college, come back. I couldn’t wait to get back. Went to Morehead and Eastern [and majored in] Social Work. My dad was a social worker, and the rest of ‘em are teachers.
Definitely not the most prosperous place to live, but I wouldn’t go anywhere else.”