Standing on stage at the Bridgestone Arena in Nashville, Tenn. in late November, Lisa Matassa was wrapping up rehearsals for her part in a tribute to country music great George Jones.
She was to sing part of a medley on the Jones classic, “The Love in Your Eyes” with a few other artists when she received a special request from a noteworthy person. Nancy Jones, the late country singer’s wife, asked the Plainview resident to wrap her voice around “Walk Through This World With Me.”
“I was floored I was even invited to sing the medley, but when Nancy asked me to sing a solo I was stunned,” said Matassa, a Plainivew mother of two. “I learned that song front to back. Fast forward to the performance, it was an incredible feeling. I finished the song, heard the applause and walked off stage and there is Vince Gill with outstretched arms telling me I killed it. Next thing I know, Martina McBride is hugging me.”
Matassa did not end up on that stage in Nashville via the paved and frequently traveled road to musical notoriety. Singing and performing from a very young age, Matassa made a few career detours along the way, taking dirt roads and side streets until she found her true passion — country music.
Downstate New York is not thought of as the heart of country music, but Matassa’s local twang is opening ears and changing that tune.
With southern sensibilities and a voice to match, Plainview resident Lisa Matassa brings the charm of living under a Nashville skyline to Long Island. Defining “Long Island Country” as “the greatest storytelling of a country song and the edginess of New York rock and roll,” Matassa has seen the island’s interest in her chosen genre expand greatly in just a few short years. And it all came to a head in 2010 when a popular radio station on the island switched format to country.
Matassa had gone to Nashville to meet with Ed Salamon, a driving force behind country music’s climb to radio popularity in the 1990s, to gauge his interested in a country singing mom from Long Island. Salamon told Matassa that ‘if there was a country station in New York, they would be playing this.’
That conversation turned to prophecy a short time later, when Salamon called Matassa while she was in the studio.
“Ed calls me and says, ‘the stars must be aligned,’” she said. “He tells me that WJVC 96.1 on Long Island is going country. The timing was just right. That’s when the ball started to roll and everything I was hoping would happen, started to happen. The doors were all opening.”
Matassa walked through those opened doors in 2011, releasing an EP “Me Time” and followed that up with the full-length album “Sunrise Highway” in 2012 and another EP “Somebody’s Baby” in the same year. Her current single, the rollicking “I Won’t Ask,” is currently climbing the country charts adding to a list of accomplishments that includes a couple of well-received videos on Country Music Television.
And aside from her star-turn at the George Jones tribute, Matassa also found herself performing at country music’s church, the Ryman Auditorium. There, she joined many other artists at the CMA Music Festival perfomring the Johnny Cash classic “Home of the Blues” as part of the Cash family’s tribute to the lengendary singer.
“I was so nervous before I went on stage,” she admitted, using prayer and a shot of fireball whiskey to soothe her jangled nerves. “But when I got up there, a calm came over me.”
Matassa is no stranger to on-stage performance. Back before she was a country darling, Matassa trained in opera and eventually signed a record deal at the age of 19. But instead of country, Matassa signed on as a dance-pop singer — not exactly her preferred style of music.
“It wasn’t exactly what I wanted to do, but my dad said when somebody offers you a record deal, you take it and say thank you,” said Matassa, who at the time was living in south Florida. “It was a good starting point. My 15 minutes of fame, so to speak.”
From there, Matassa moved on to Long Island, evenutally starting a family in Plainview. She currently lives there with her husband Frank, and her two children, 17-year-old Frankie and 19-year-old Alexa.
“It’s been a whirlwind and my family has been paramount throughout everything,” she said. “I could not do any of this without their support.”
That family support — along with her unique voice — has brought Matassa to the forefront of the independent country music scene. She is riding the wave of an upswing in country music popularity, which she credits to artists like Garth Brooks, Faith Hill and even Taylor Swift.
“There are so many voices now in country music, the pool is getting kind of filled up,” she said. “Many people would see me as an underdog, but I don’t mind that at all. This has been an absolute dream and if it all ended tomorrow, I would be so happy and so grateful.”
As for those who say she started too late in her life, Matassa points to her performances at the George Jones and Johnny Cash tributes as reminders to the contrary.
“It’s cliche, but age is only a number. You are the only person stopping yourself from doing what you want to do,” she said. “This is the fullest life I could have ever dreamed of having.”