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Santa Train to feature Kathy Mattea

LOUISVILLE — Country music singer Kathy Mattea will help deliver gifts when the Santa Train makes its 66th annual run Saturday through a stretch of Appalachia.

The train delivers more than 15 tons of Christmas gifts to children living along a 110-mile stretch in the rural mountain communities of Eastern Kentucky, western Virginia and northeast Tennessee. It is sponsored by the Chamber of Commerce in Kingsport, Tenn.; CSX Transportation Inc.; and Food City Grocers of Abingdon, Va.

Kingsport merchants started the tradition to show their appreciation to customers and help families with little money around Christmastime. The gifts are collected through community donations.

Tori Kaplan of CSX said Mattea was invited to participate because of her Appalachian roots — she's from Cross Lanes, W.Va. — and her new CD is about coal and mining families. "Riding on the Santa Train gives me the opportunity to participate in the lives of the people I have been singing about," Mattea said. "There is a sense of community here, and a sense of place like nowhere else; riding a train through the mountains and visiting with the folks will be the highlight of my Christmas this year."

Mattea said her new CD Coal describes the hardships that many miners face in the mountains. It was inspired by the 2006 mining disaster in Sago, W.Va., that killed 12 miners. Many of the songs on the album reflect the experiences of Mattea's own family. Both of her grandfathers were coal miners, and her parents grew up in coal camps.

The train will begin in Pikeville and make 14 stops as it moves through southwest Virginia en route to Kingsport.

Karen Jobe, with Kingsport's Chamber of Commerce, said Santa will stay busy even after the train ride ends. "He'll stay on the train a few minutes and throw wrapped toys and candy to the crowd before boarding a firetruck to ride in our annual parade," she said.