First ladies: Lynn, Spacek reunite Saturday

Sissy Spacek is having an old friend over on Saturday, and everyone in Charlottesville is invited. Organizers booked a live band months ago, but the set-list seems flexible.

"She said something about singing a couple of songs," says Spacek. "And I said, 'Which ones?' And she said 'I don't know; just pick a couple.'"

The two met when work began in the late 1970s on the film Coal Miner's Daughter. At the time, few folks probably realized the impact it would have on its two principals more than two decades later.

For its subject, the motion picture would introduce her songs to an audience who considered country music terra incognita. For its star, who had electrified audiences as the vengeful high-school star of Carrie, it not only helped her avoid typecasting, but catapulted her into the upper echelon of the dramatic arts.

Now, 25 years after the film's release, the First Lady of Country Music and the woman who told her story to millions are getting together again. On July 30, the Charlottesville Pavilion inaugurates its season by reuniting Loretta Lynn and Sissy Spacek.

They won't simply shake hands. According to Spacek, Lynn has asked her to be her duet partner on a few numbers.

Despite a quarter-century friendship with the country star, Spacek admits to being nervous about following in the footsteps of such musical giants as Conway Twitty and Ernest Tubb by appearing onstage with the Loretta Lynn.

"I'm thinking 'What the heck am I going to do?' I'm thinking, 'Oh my God, I haven't done these songs in 20 years!'"

Spacek is no stranger to nervousness. It's that same anxiety she felt when Lynn handpicked the young up-and-coming actress to be her celluloid doppelganger in Coal Miner's Daughter.

"I had mixed emotions," confesses Spacek, who has lived in Albemarle County since 1980, the year the film was released. "I was thrilled, but then Loretta decided before I decided," she says.

After receiving Lynn's blessing, Spacek began an extensive regimen of vocal training. She worked with the people who taught Loretta Lynn how to sound like Loretta Lynn: her band, her longtime producer, Owen Bradley– and Lynn herself.

As if looking, moving, and talking like a living legend weren't difficult enough, Spacek decided to take her transformation a step further. In order to truly become Lynn, she insisted on doing all of her own singing for the role. It was a conclusion she reached by watching one of her contemporaries portray another icon of American music.

"I'd seen a film with Gary Busey called The Buddy Holly Story where he did his own singing," recalls Spacek, "and it was so amazing, and it added such an element of realism."

To this day, the veteran actress waxes rhapsodic about Coal Miner's Daughter. "It was a real, real special group of people, and it was a great experience. I think everyone in that film did extraordinary work," she says.

Apparently, others agreed. Not long after her 30th birthday, Spacek found herself onstage at the 53rd Academy Awards accepting the Best Actress Oscar for her performance, beating out the likes of Ellen Burstyn and Mary Tyler Moore.

Although she compares that night to an "out of body experience," Spacek does remember giving her acceptance speech and spotting Lynn. "She was in the audience, I could see Doolittle's [Lynn, Loretta's husband] cowboy hat."

What did Loretta say to her after the win? "I think she said something like, 'I knew it,'" Spacek recalls.

It was the ultimate affirmation of a lesson that Spacek took to heart throughout the making of Coal Miner's Daughter: "I learned to just do whatever Loretta said. She's never wrong."

Which is precisely why Spacek, 55, has agreed to sing along with her old friend at Saturday's show.

When that moment comes, she'll be looking out on an audience younger than those who have gone to see Butcher Holler's favorite daughter in the past. That's because the 70-year-old country music legend won a whole new generation of fans last year with the album Van Lear Rose, a collaboration with ultra-popular garage rocker Jack White of the White Stripes.

That Grammy-winning LP was the first time many teens and 20-somethings had heard of Lynn, but at least two young'uns at the Pavilion show will know her older material: Spacek's daughters, Schuyler and Madison Fisk.

"Loretta has always been synonymous with the family," says Spacek, "so they have her songs on their iPods along with Jimi Hendrix and Jack Johnson and Dave Matthews Band."

So what exactly will Schuyler and Madison's mom sing with Lynn at the concert? Pressed for details, Spacek says sheepishly, "I'll just be humming along in the background, and it will be my honor because I love and adore her.

"Everyone has a fa├žade, but Loretta doesn't," Spacek says. "I can't think of how to explain it." It's likely that after Saturday's performance, explanations won't be necessary for Lynn's Charlottesville audience to know exactly what her old friend means.


Loretta Lynn and Sissy Spacek join in a duet during a 1980 party to launch the national release of
Coal Miner's Daughter in Los Angeles.