The Leadville Connection, Part Three
By Kathy Bedell, © Leadville Today
When it comes to music, Leadville has other mountain towns beat in some unusual ways. The Leadville Connection shines through in the melodies and lyrics of music produced long ago, and today. In Part One of this series, was the story of “Home on the Range,” and The Leadville Connection to this popular sing-along and American cowboy classic. Then, in Part Two, The Leadville Connection continued into the 20th century, with some contemporary musical pieces from Jimmy Buffet to String Cheese Incident.
In Part Three, things move into the 21st century with The Leadville Connection for all you heavy-metal lovers. Have you seen the video? Did you catch the t-shirt? Yes, America’s highest city made it into one of America’s heavy-metal band’s music videos released in late 2018. It’s now been viewed more than 37 million times, and that’s just on YouTube.
Did you see it? If not, the now-famous Leadville t-shirt’s appearances are broken-up into three quick segments, the longest being at the 4:57 time mark in the video, the others coming in at 1:08 and 5:10. For a combined ten seconds, Metallica’s lead guitarist/vocalist James Hetfield is seen wearing a Leadville t-shirt in the “Atlas, Rising.” music video. So how did this hard-rock community make it into the heavy-metal music video? Leadville Today (LT) dug deep to find the answers?
When it comes to heavy-metal, Metallica and Leadville have a lot in common. Both have seen their share of gold. The band in the form of Grammys and chart-topping, million-selling albums. And the city in the form of earthly veins extracted underground and transformed into ornate opera houses and lavish hotels above ground.
For readers unfamiliar with the “headbanger” music genre, Metallica is one of America’s favorite heavy metal bands. The group came together 37 years ago in Los Angeles when vocalist/guitarist James Hetfield responded to an advertisement posted by drummer Lars Ulrich in a local newspaper. The rest is history, as that connection laid the groundwork for creating what is often described as one of the most influential and heaviest of the thrash metal musicians: Metallica.
It was their lightning-fast appeal to the underground heavy-metal music community, which allowed them to harvest a consistent vein of heavy metal gold in the form of ten studio albums, four live albums, five extended plays, 26 music videos, and 37 singles. In fact, Metallica has been listed as one of the greatest artists of all time by many magazines, including Rolling Stone. And lead man Hetfield is often ranked in the top 100 Greatest Guitarists lists created by industry experts. Pretty impressive!
So when Metallica released their latest project in late 2016, Hardwired… to Self-Destruct, many long-standing, head-bangers wondered if they could keep the streak going. Could the band jack-leg out the same kind of return that the hard-rock community had come to expect from the aging rockers now heading into their fourth decade of playing together? Fortunately, it was another Eureka! moment as these heavy-metal miners hit pay dirt once again. And then, they gave it a little bit of magic, by adding that special ingredient, The Leadville Connection.
This is the tale of the ten-second t-shirt. It’s a story about how a heavy-metal rocker helped out an old hard-rock mining town by sporting a shirt which bore its name: Leadville. Because when it comes to product placement those 10 seconds of the six-and-a-half-minute music video which has now been viewed more than 37 million times is pure marketing gold! But how did the t-shirt make the cut? Was it a racing connection? Perhaps a gift from a relative?
Actually, the bridge to America’s highest city likely came because of a shift in family values for the lead rocker. In May 2013, Metallica’s James Hetfield moved his whole family from the San Francisco Bay area to the Vail Valley, wanting to escape the “elitist attitude,” particularly in Marin County where he lived for many years.
“I kind of got sick of the Bay Area, the attitudes of the people there, a little bit,” stated Hetfield in the interview, originally broadcast on The Joe Rogan Experience. “They talk about how diverse they are, and things like that, and it’s fine if you’re diverse like them. But showing up with a deer on the bumper doesn’t fly in Marin County. My form of eating organic doesn’t vibe with theirs.”
During that podcast, Hetfield explained that his wife Francesca spent part of her childhood in Vail and preferred skiing there compared to Tahoe, where Hetfield’s three teenage kids grew up skiing. Since then the family has made neighboring Eagle County their home for the past seven years. Perhaps it was during a neighborly outing with the family to Leadville that the souvenir was purchased? In fact, after LT story’s original 2016 post date, someone wrote in to say they used to sell that t-shirt design at the Leadville, Colorado and Southern Railroad’s gift shop. Maybe the rocker and his family came up to ride the train. giving those old boxcars another opportunity to transport some precious heavy metal-licca! Another reader said the Hetfields have been spotted lunching at the Tennessee Pass Cafe in downtown Leadville.
No matter how it happened, that ten-second t-shirt appearing in the “Atlas Rising” video – now seen by tens of millions of people – claims its rightful spot in the Leadville Today series, Mountain Music: The Leadville Connection. Rock On!
Colorado Journalist Kathy Bedell owns The Great Pumpkin, LLC, a media company located in Leadville, Colorado which publishes LeadvilleToday.com and SaguacheToday.com. She may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.