MADISON — The 21st annual West Virginia Coal Festival got underway Tuesday in Madison an opening ceremony at the Boone County courthouse.
A crowd gathered at 6 p.m. in the sweltering June heat and humidity to hear from Joy Underwood, president of the festival.
Another highlight of the event was a short speech by West Virginia Coal Association Vice President Chris Hamilton.
The event commenced with an opening statement by Underwood, followed by a welcome address by another Coal Festival board member, Delores Cook.
The posting of the colors and Pledge of Allegiance was led by Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 5578 of Madison. Curtis Mayhorn is the commander.
Autumn Blair, a rising 18-year-old musical star, flawlessly delivered a rendition of the “Star-Spangled Banner.”
The posting of the festival flag was led by the Civil Air Patrol under the direction of Carol Martin. An invocation was delivered by Rev. Tom Bias of the Van United Methodist Church.
Chad Hess followed with his version of song entitled, “Back to Boone.” In addition to his musical talents, Hess is a Boone County deputy sheriff, according to Underwood.
Blair then returned to the podium to deliver an inspired “Coal Miners Daughter.” She was accompanied on this country music classic by Scott Scaggs. Blair is related to the legendary artist famous for the coal mine song, Loretta Lynn.
Maxine Tinnel, pageant director, presented the queens, including last year’s royalty. Sylvester Mayor Manuel Arvon was recognized as the grand marshal of this year’s festival.
Madison Mayor H.H. “Sonny” Howell, the parade marshal, was absent from the ceremonies.
Next, Colonel Reese recognized two Boone County D-Day survivors: Bob Peal of the Navy and Elmer Mitchell of the Army.
It was then Hamilton’s turn to speak. He noted that he had not received a “warm welcome” in Madison on this humid day, “but a hot welcome to Boone County.”
Hamilton spoke of the admiration he and his group hold for the coal miners, present and past, of Boone. He said mining started in the area “250 years ago. It has gone on for 150 years in the State of West Virginia and, before that, for 100 years in the Commonwealth of Virginia.”
He said the area boasts some of the “best miners, best engineers, and best technicians in the world” who are now “being punished by the administration in Washington for a job well done.”
Although he said he did not “want to become political,” Hamilton said there is no doubt the administration in Washington wants to eliminate carbon-based fuels.
In the last three years, he said, 10,000 mining jobs have been lost in West Virginia, Southeastern Kentucky and Southwest Virginia. “They are out to get us,” he reminded the crowd.
Hamilton went on to say pollution is a “world problem but the United States is treating it as though we can single-handedly solve all the problems. We can’t.”
Hamilton said shutting down all coal-related energy plants in the U.S. would result in only a four percent improvement in global environmental conditions.
“We need help,” he said, “and the answer is not to put our hard-working coal miners out of business.”
The program concluded with a benediction by Rev. Bias.
The event also featured the 2014 WV Coal Festival beauty pageant queens.
Also, the Coal Museum and train display opened Tuesday, as well as a bicycle parade, a karaoke show and the carnival.
Today features mine equipment displays, the Miners Memorial Service at 6 p.m. on the front lawn of the Boone County Courthouse, and a gospel music concert starting at 7:10 p.m. on the Main Stage on Main Street in downtown Madison.
The Coal Festival runs through Saturday in Madison with free entertainment and a number of events open to the public. Musical events, parades, the carnival and fireworks are featured during the 5-day festival.