A fisherman, casts a line into the water. Nothing. He casts again. Still nothing. The vibration of a phone interrupts the tranquility of the day. A voice on the other line says that it wont be necessary to find a bed for their child at the rehabilitation center, they didn’t make it through the weekend to be able to get there.
This was the moment that caused Charles Hatcher to say enough is enough and to begin a journey of finding ways to fund treatment facilities and the money necessary to get people that are in need into them. The question was, how?
Charles didn’t have to think too long on this, as the one resource he had plenty of was musicians. He took some time to talk with us about the upcoming festival, that features huge names in the music industry, and the heart behind Healing Appalachia.
Interview edited for clarity and brevity.
BB: Tell us about how Healing Appalachia came to be.
CH: Well, it all started because a friend of mine’s son was coming back from a treatment facility in California. He had finished a 90 day program. She was scared he would relapse. I had been working with a lot of my friends that had just recently become sober and started to get their life in order and we were rekindling the plans that they had. So because of that I was kind of dialed in a little bit on how a lot of that stuff was working but just in the periphery.
I’m no clinical guy and I don’t pretend to know anything about healthcare. But because of my connections to that she had asked if I knew of anywhere I could help get her son to. We were calling around everywhere on Friday. We finally found a bed but we couldn’t get it until Monday.
I was out fishing with a buddy of mine on Sunday and my phone rang. It’s weird, my phone never rang there but this time it did. I answered and it was my friend telling me she didn’t need the bed because she found her son cold down in her basement. So that just weighed heavy on my chest. How many are we gonna go through? What are we gonna do?
And I just sat there contemplating about stuff and an idea popped into my head. Why don’t I just call my musical buddies and see if we could put something together and give all the money away to these recovery houses that are trying to do the right thing here in Appalachia. I went home and called my buddy, Ian Thornton. We spoke with Tyler Childers and he said he’d be glad to help us. That was in 2017.
Our first show was in 2018 and we had, I think it was 2400 people. We were tickled to have that many. The next year we had 8,000 people in attendance. And then of course we had 2020 and 2021 canceled due to covid. We came back in 2022 and we had 11,800 in attendance. This year we are expecting 12,500 people over the three days. I’ve been involved in doing shows for a while, beer fests and random shows through the state, so we kind of had an idea how all of this process should work. Working with Ian on this thing with all of his resources combined with my resources helped pull it all together. We established a board and the rest is history.
BB: So if the math is right, you’re in year four of the festival and Tyler Childers is headlining it. Has he headlined every year?
CH: Yeah, Tyler will headline every year of this thing as long as we’re in existence. He’s been a good partner to us and a good spokesman for us. I mean, he grew up in it. You know what I mean? He’s from Eastern Kentucky. It’s no different there than here with the drug problem. And it’s the same scenario. The energy sector to comes in, energy sector goes out. Leaves everybody impoverished and only pills behind. He lived that same experience as we do here in West Virginia.
BB: You also have Charles Wesley Godwin playing this year.
CH: Charles is the man. He’s another special one. Just a genuine human being. I think the world of him. I think I’ve known him for seven years and he’s just a good human. Umphrey McGee and Govt. Mule are joining us as well as Trey Anastasio and Classic Tab. He’s another guy that has some West Virginia roots. His daughters went to school here and he’s had his own walk with recovery and addiction throughout the year and I’m interested to hear him be able to tell his story.
Your know that’s one of the really cool things about our event. We are able to do these massive talents but still keep the event focused on why we are all there. We are celebrating folks in recovery and helping those who need a little help. In between bands as we’re flipping the stage we have folks on the stage talking about where they were five years ago, where they’re going and how they got here. Last year we had a friend of mines daughter that said she wanted to speak and tell her story. knew the struggle she had gone through. She had found her dad overdosed three times and she twelve years old. But she got up there and was so brace and just said “You can recover. You can get better. My dad did it and he’s a good guy.” You know no one ever sets out to end up there.
We have folks that talk on a variety of subjects. Judge Ewing from Fayette County comes down and talks about family drug treatment courts and his vision and approach to dealing with this epidemic through the judicial system. We have round table discussions about trying to get laws changed. Addiction should not be a punitive thing. I understand that there are punitive properties that come along with that lifestyle and I’m not disagreeing with that but we aren’t going to, its not possible, to imprison our way out of this problem.
There is a law being proposed, which I will never understand that if you are in possession of fentanyl it would be possession of a weapon of mass destruction with a mandatory minimum assigned to it. And we know federal mandatory minimums were a total failure. The best way out of this thing, I think, is through education and treatment. I was someone that thought negatively about needle exchanges and such, and assumed they were where addicts went to do drugs openly but that’s just not the way it works. I get that people are jaded because they’re sick and freaking tired of chasing their neighbor out of the wood shed from stealing the freaking weed eater multiple times. And they can’t figure out why they just don’t stop. They simple can’t. There’s no switch to flip on and off. It doesn’t work that way. When the clean needle exchange was explained to me and really broken down I got it.
Which place has had one of the highest spikes in rate of HIV transmission? Charleston, West Virginia and its due to shared use of needles. So that alone is reason enough to support clean needles. And when you look at these areas where they’ve instituted these clean needle exchange the rates of disease transmission go down.
BB: Healing Appalachia is an educational experience as much as it is a concert. But it also sounds like you’re putting on a really big old school revival.
CH: When you get down here, you’ll never see so many people cry at one time. I’ve watched entire crowds break down due to a song. I mean, the feeling of that place, you can just see and feel it in the air.
Get your tickets to Healing Appalachia and go watch as Charles and friends sit in their boat and cast line after line as they catch everyone that they can in need of help.