A skyrocketing singing career has opened plenty of doors for Lisa Matassa, and this Thursday she will walk through one that she has long wanted to enter. The Queen of Long Island Country Music is going to sing the Canadian and U.S. national anthems at harness racing's prestigious Little Brown Jug in Delaware, Ohio.
The Little Brown Jug is the second jewel in the Pacing Triple Crown and attracts 50,000 fans to the Delaware County Fair.
Matassa will also be selling her CD and be available for autographs and photo opportunities between the Grandstand and Pavilion Hill on Thursday from 10 a.m. to noon and from 2 p.m. to 5 p.m.
That alone will be worth checking out for fans in attendance, as Matassa's engaging personality will put a smile on anyone's face even if the conversation lasts just two minutes.
As the owner of two harness racing horses with husband Frank -- Macho Lindy and Broadway Rocks -- this is yet another dream come true in a year where dreams just keep becoming reality for Matassa.
"It is so exciting for me," she said. "I never had the opportunity to go to the Little Brown Jug; I'm so excited to be in attendance for that event. I'm just really psyched. We're going to meet (trainer/friends) Ronnie and Regina Coyne out there and it will be great to celebrate that together.
"I'm also excited to sing the National Anthem and Canadian Anthem. I've been singing it for weeks now to get ready for it.
"And then I can't wait to place a bet and have some fun."
Matassa is fitting the trip into a jam packed schedule, which is what happens when singers get successful.
This summer her single "Wouldn't You Like to Know" reached No. 1 on Renegade Radio's Nashville.com Top 40 Countdown.
The song takes a playful jab at men on the make in bars, who are always wondering what groups of women are talking about among themselves while looking over at the guys.
"It's based on when we get a chance to go out for a girls' night out," Matassa said. "We'll talk about the guys hanging at the bar, and husbands and kids and things like that...50 Shades of Gray.
"One guy asked me what we talk about and I told him ‘We talk about the same thing you guys are over there talking about,'" she added with a laugh.
Her latest single "Somebody's Baby" is being released this week on Long Island's WJVC, which is appropriate since its rise as a country music station has coincided with Matassa's rise in the business. Two Long Island entities helping each other out.
Somebody's Baby is as opposite from Wouldn't You Like to Know as possible, as it deals with separation of parents and kids when a child suddenly goes out into the world.
"Being a mom of teenagers you realize that as they're growing up and you're trying to direct them down the right path, it's important they know regardless of where they go on in life and no matter where they are, they'll always be considered someone's baby," Matassa said. "It's a very relatable song, especially around this time when kids are going off to school and parents become empty-nesters.
"My daughter is a senior in high school, I'm going to miss her like crazy, but no matter what, she has to go out there, hit the ground running, chase that thrill and ride her dreams. But she needs to realize I'm always going to consider her my baby. That's just what moms do. And everyone needs to know they're always somebody's baby."
And while country music can also be considered Matassa's baby, she is overjoyed to be stepping out of that realm to sing the national anthems from two countries at the Jug. Matassa has sung the Star Spangled Banner at several other races, including the Hambletonian eliminations.
To Matassa, the song is a source of pride and holds great responsibility.
"I always feel very patriotic when I sing it," she said. "As a singer, you want to make sure you don't screw that up. There's an emotion attached to it, at least for me, as my father-in-law was a veteran. For years I sung it on Long Island at different events, and you see the reaction from veterans when you sing it."
And she performs it the way Francis Scott Key wrote it, out of respect for what it means.
"I sing it straight, I don't take any liberties with it, because you can't take away or detract from the meaning of the song," she said. "A lot of veterans, when they hear me sing it they appreciate that.
"It's not about the singer. It's about the people you're singing for, who served their country and gave the ultimate sacrifice. I remember that every time I sing the song. I have to swallow deep sometimes because I don't want to lose it. I tune everyone and everything out and I make sure every word counts."
She is not impressed with so many artists today who feel the need to put their "personal signature" on a song that belongs to everyone.
"Some people -- and I don't want to mention names -- but I mean, we get it, we know you can sing," Matassa said. "There are some singers that take this minute and 50 second song and turn it into a four-minute tune. It's not about how high and low you can go; it's the words to the song that matter."
It is that kind of attitude that makes Matassa enjoy harness racing so much, as she feels it is a fabric of Americana.
"I'm so looking forward to the Little Brown Jug...maybe more than anything," Matassa said. "Being around horses and horse lovers and people involved, it goes back to when I was a kid. It just feels like home.
"I love the people involved in harness racing. They're down to earth, they're America. I love being able to be involved with that."
Matassa is involved in more ways than just singing, of course, as she and Frank have some pretty good horses.
Broadway Rocks, a 4-year-old trotter, has won eight of 16 starts this year. Macho Lindy, an 8-year-old trotter, had colic surgery in March, but recently returned to action.
"He seems to be back to his old self," said Frank Matassa, who notes that Macho Lindy still holds the world record for a 4-year-old gelding trotter on a five-eighths-mile track, at 1:52.
Matassa is hoping she might get to watch one of her horses in a major event like the Jug one day.
"For me as a harness horse owner, this is the equivalent to the Kentucky Derby," she said. "It's a big deal. Of course as an owner you'd love to have your own horse in one of those races, so it's a little bittersweet.
"But I'm still getting to go as a fan and I'll be able to experience something I've always wanted to do. Maybe next time we'll have a horse with us. This is an important race, and as a harness owner, to experience and see so many people we know in the industry who have horses in the race is great. I'm excited for them."
Matassa was contacted to sing the anthem after a story on her appeared on this website in May. With a singer who owns harness horses, Thursday's pairing of Matassa and the Little Brown Jug was pretty much inevitable.
"They thought it would be a great marriage of having a country music artist who's also a horse owner, to breathe some new life and new air into harness racing," Matassa said. "I just jumped on it. I think more people should experience what it's like to watch a harness race.
"It's family friendly and such a great time. My kids always loved it; they've been around horses all their lives. It's a lot of fun, and it's just exciting."
And this year's Jug will have an added touch of excitement, courtesy of Lisa Matassa.
by Rich Fisher, USTA Web Newsroom Senior Correspondent (Courtesy of the US Trotting Association's Web Newsroom)
Lisa Matassa - 'Somebody's Baby':