When Americana singer-songwriter Eric Bolander heard about the 2019 Harlan County coal miners protest, it hit close to home. The protest, in which dozens of coal miners in Harlan County, Kentucky blocked a train full of coal from shipping out of an Eastern Kentucky mine after their employer, Blackjewel, went bankrupt and failed to pay its employees for weeks, led the proud Kentuckian to write "Cold Men."
Bolander said couldn't help thinking of his own upbringing in the Bluegrass State.
"I thought about my dad being a union carpenter and working a lot of construction with a wife and three kids at home," Boland tells Wide Open Country. "What would have happened in those early years when I was really young, and we didn't have much money, had my dad lost his job suddenly with three months pay owed to him?"
Bolander says he was inspired to write the song while playing a benefit concert to raise money for the families of the Kentucky miners who were owed back pay from Blackjewel. (In October of 2019, Blackjewel agreed to pay about 1,100 $5.1 million in unpaid wages.)
"I mentally put myself in the shoes of a little girl in one of these families and started writing as if it were a nightmare," Bolander tells Wide Open Country. "What the Blackjewel Mining Company did to these workers and their families was just heartbreaking. I'm not very politically outspoken in terms of my musical platform, but I will always use my voice, lyrics, and craft to speak out on issues that affect folks that don't have a voice and often get silenced by the rich and powerful."
Listen to "Cold Men" below.
Bolander, who grew up in the foothills of Appalachia in Garrison, Ky., says he indentified with the miners and their families.
"Folks in Appalachia have long been outcasts from most accepted cultures and it's easy for stories like this to go unheard and/or forgotten," Bolander says. "It's time that folks from the Appalachian area be seen for their beauty, work ethic, perseverance, and willingness to help a stranger, no matter where they're from. I'm a proud Appalachian son and brother; and though my home is in Lexington, Ky. with my wife and daughter now, I'll always leave part of my heart and soul in those foothills."