Some entertainers pulling out of WEG over coal-company sponsorship

At least four entertainment acts have refused to perform during the Alltech FEI World Equestrian Games because a coal company is one of the major sponsors.

Acts who won't be appearing as part of the Kentucky Experience Pavilion include the musical groups Reel World String Band, Kentucky Wild Horse and Randy Wilson, and storyteller Octavia Sexton.

All are performers with strong Appalachian ties, who often incorporate coal mines and miners into their performances. Reel World String Band, for example, would likely have performed The Taking, which includes a line about stopping "the greed of the coal companies."

Performers are scheduled every night of the Games, which run from Sept. 25 to Oct. 10.

The artists were selected by the Kentucky Arts Council several months ago as part of an effort to showcase the state's tourism, businesses and arts and crafts in a group of large structures at the Kentucky Horse Park. While the arts council was choosing performers, the state Department of Tourism was lining up sponsors.

In the past couple of weeks, the artists were told Alliance Coal was one of the pavilion's main sponsors, and they would be performing in front of a banner proclaiming "Clean Coal."

John Harrod, a member of the group Kentucky Wild Horse, said that was something he could not do.

"I could not in good conscience allow myself to be used as an advertisement for an industry that has bought and corrupted our legislature and consistently blocked all efforts by our state to move ahead on sustainable energy," Harrod said Monday.

Gil Lawson, a spokesman for the state Tourism, Arts and Heritage Cabinet, which includes the arts council, said Alliance Coal is one of the major sponsors for the Kentucky Experience. Because the company contributed $275,000, the tent where music is performed will likely be called the Alliance Coal Pavilion, he said.

"We realize there are differing opinions and points of view about coal in this state," Lawson said. "If the performers do not wish to perform at this venue, we respect their opinion and decision to do that."

The arts council received 193 applications from artists who wanted to perform, narrowed that list to 110, and then chose 75, Lawson said. The council will go back to the list of 110 to replace the artists who have withdrawn.

Alliance released a statement Monday that said, in part, "we recognize the importance of this international event and are proud to support the efforts of the city of Lexington and the Commonwealth of Kentucky to showcase all that our communities have to offer on a world stage." The statement did not address the artists pulling out of the event.

This type of controversy is becoming more common as the coal industry seeks to improve its reputation in the state.

Last fall, the University of Kentucky board of trustees voted 16-3 to accept $7 million for a new Wildcat Coal Lodge to house basketball players. The proposal for the lodge came from Joe Craft, the head of Alliance Coal, who put together 20 other people called the Difference Makers to come up with the money.

A couple of months later, writer Wendell Berry told UK he would withdraw many of his personal papers from the school's archives to protest the lodge's name.

When Reel World String Band decided not to perform during the Games, banjo player Sue Massek sent a letter to the arts council attacking mountaintop removal mining for "devastating hundreds of square miles of Appalachia," while polluting headwaters and destroying Appalachian culture.

According to its Web site, Alliance operates only deep mines in Kentucky, but Massek said the company still is part of the problem.

"It's the whole coal industry that does the mountaintop removal, so that doesn't make a difference, and they're all pushing for this clean coal, and there's no such thing as clean coal." she said.

Other members of Reel World String Band include: Karen Jones, fiddle; Bev Futrell, guitar; Elise Melrood, keyboard; and bassist Sharon Ruble, who is the Herald-Leader's news production/technology manager.