Kentucky star shines in 'Always Loretta'

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Jan. 25—ASHLAND — It's unlikely Emily Portman would have escaped a career in music. She grew up in a house listening to her dad's Creedence Clearwater Revival and Merle Haggard CDs. She also sang and learned guitar with her great-great uncle.

It was when she began singing Loretta Lynn tunes that she started on the path to singing in "Always Loretta," a stage show honoring the late singer-songwriter and her work.

Portman, a Leitchfield native, and her band, The Coalminers, with members of Lynn's old band, will bring the show to Ashland's Paramount Arts Center this weekend.

Portman said she also got to meet Lynn and said she felt a strong connection to her.

"She was real down to earth and very much made me feel like I was right there with her, like I was one of her dearest friends," Portman said. "She never made you feel like you weren't worthy. She put you real at ease. When I met her, she said, 'They told me you were coming, so I went and brushed my teeth.' She lets you know she puts her britches on the same way you do."

Dave Thornhill, lead guitar and band leader for The Coalminers, said Lynn's band members went their separate ways in 1997, but came back together to perform with Portman.

"We had a jam session about two years ago and called a lot of friends of ours we played music with," Thornhill, a Pike County native, said. "We were going to have it at my recording studio, but word got out we were having a reunion jam and I had to rent a theater to get everybody in."

Thornhill had seen Porter singing on Facebook and was impressed, so he invited her to join the jam.

"She went nuts about it. She thought that was the greatest thing that ever was," he said. "She came down and we just had a grand time. All the guys in the band were just bowed over how much she sounded like Loretta."

He said they all felt a connection and, after the jam session, decided to see if they could do a few shows. That's when "Always Loretta" was born.

Portman said the show will impart the experience of a Lynn concert.

"Folks when they come to see the show we're hoping they leave with that spirit of Loretta Lynn," she said. "I feel like her and Jesus have a lot of this part of the show, making it so special, extra special."

"We base our show exactly like you'd see Loretta Lynn 25 years ago," he said, adding Jean Anne Tarleton, who often performed on stage with Lynn, also will sing. "Most who come and see our show, they say, 'I close my eyes and I'm at a Loretta Lynn concert.'"

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lward@dailyindependent.com