Christy Hays’ Love Letter to Butte, Montana

Austin folksinger serenades onetime mining town in new video

In “Town Underground,” Christy Hays paints a complex picture of a minimized mountainside metropolis: a city of bygone boom, humble and honest, haunted by forgotten fortunes and ghosts of the mine – a seemingly broken community that’s unbowed in spirit. Thirteen hundred miles from her home in Austin, the hills of Montana call her name.

Photo by Courtney Chavanell

The local country folk singer and songwriter, gifted in vivid lyrical portrayals, bought a house in Butte last summer and spent months falling in love with its hardscrabble soul.

“It’s a defunct mining town that was the largest city between Chicago and San Francisco at the turn of the century, and the largest copper-producing mine in the entire world at one point,” explains Hays. “At that time, it was very opulent, but the mining has all but stopped and all the jobs have gone away, so it’s become a post-industrial wasteland that’s extremely unique and bizarre.”

In the chorus of “Town Underground,” Hays offers a stirring line that seems to imply that just because Butte is largely abandoned by the industrial world, that doesn’t mean it shouldn’t be loved: “Maybe I’m right to cling to it tight, every old beaten dog still needs someone.”

“The city became a bastard of Montana, politically, economically, and socially,” offers the singer, who hopes to create something of an artist retreat in the highly affordable burg. “It has a bad rap throughout the country, but the people are so unique and blue collar, and they get by. I like those kind of people.

“They’re inspiring to me.”

“Town Underground” arrives as a one-off, not featured on last year’s LP O’ Montana. The Bruce Robison-produced track finds Hays collaborating with guitarist/banjo player Tony Kamel and bassist Dom Fisher from Austin’s current bluegrass frontrunners, Wood & Wire, and fiddler Andy Lentz. The video shows the quartet recording live at Robison’s Motel Time Studios, filmed by Lauren Trahan.

That footage is interlaced with clips of everyday life in Butte as captured by wildlife photographer Christopher Lunn. The resulting video was edited by Chase McDaniel. Here’s “Town Underground:”

This week, Hays embarks on a solo tour of the south with Susto’s Justin Osborne. All of their concert dates are included below.

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Christy Hays, Tony Kamel, Dom Fisher, Andy Lentz, Bruce Robison, Chase McDaniel, Lauren Trahan, Christopher Lunn

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