The Sun Valley Pavilion has a busy summer ahead of it, and it looks to kick things off with a bang. On Saturday, June 29, country star Granger Smith will take to the venue with special guest McKenna Faith, courtesy of RJK Entertainment and the Sun Valley Resort.
On Thursday, June 6, Granger Smith announced that his youngest son, 3-year-old River, died in a tragic drowning accident. He released a statement, saying, “Our family is devastated and heartbroken, but we take solace in knowing he is with his Heavenly Father. The joy he brought to our lives cannot be expressed and his light will forever be in our hearts. If there are words to say more, I cannot find them in this moment.”
Despite this horrific incident, Smith has not cancelled or even postponed his tour.
“We are very happy to announce that the Granger Smith concert is on as planned,” said Ryan Kolquist of RJK Entertainment. “We continue to send our thoughts and prayers to him and his family during this time.”
Smith has now endured a tragedy that none can imagine without having experienced it, but his decision to keep moving forward is perfectly in line with his artistic qualities and personal values. His is a story of perseverance and triumph, of succeeding despite the odds, of unwavering integrity and of hard work paying off.
When he was just 14, Texas-born Smith decided to pick up a Yamaha Classic guitar with nylon strings and teach himself how to play. Within a year, he found himself landing weekend gigs at local establishments. At 19, while a student at Texas A&M, he was hired as a songwriter for EMI Music Publishing in Nashville.
After a few years of learning the basics of recording and studio navigation, he returned to Texas to finish his degree and start a band, and that was when the slog began.
Years of hard work gigging on the road, songwriting when he had the time and selling shirts out of a van eventually paid off. In April 2016, he dropped his debut album, “Dirt Road Driveway,” which, much to his surprise, opened at No. 1 on iTunes and peaked at No. 15 on the U.S. country charts.
All of a sudden, he found himself an emerging star of country music. His honest, down-to-earth music and hearteningly positive lyrics instantly endeared him to listeners, and his follow-up EP skyrocketed to the No. 6 position on the country charts. Its lead single, “Backroad Song,” sold more than 32,000 downloads within its first week and won Smith a BMI Country Award.
Despite his meteoric rise from relative obscurity to country stardom, Smith remains dedicated to his personal values and jovial nature, qualities that helped make him so popular.
Many professional musicians struggle to balance their personal lives with the demands of being in the public eye, but for Smith, the key to success is obvious.
“Family is the most important thing to me,” he said in an interview with the Express last month. “I work to stay as present and focused as I can when I’m at home. When I can, I take the family with me on the road.”
Jennifer Fiedler and Trey Smith, close friends of Granger Smith and rising stars of the country scene themselves, described him as a “true family man” in the wake of River’s untimely death.
In matters of family, as in all things, he draws upon the example of his role model: his father. When asked about his greatest influence, he simply answered, “Dad. He taught me how to be a man.”
As for artistic influences, Smith draws from some perhaps unexpected fonts. Amid mentions of such iconic and important country forefathers as Jimmie Rodgers and Hank Williams, he also declared himself an avid listener of audiobooks and an amateur historian.
“I’m a huge World War II history nerd,” he said.
His tastes go much further back into history than the 1940s, however. Right across his bio page on his website stretches a quote from Alfred, Lord Tennyson: “I cannot rest from travel; I will drink life to the lees.”
He elaborated upon his love of poetry, saying, “I wrote poems before I played guitar and wrote songs. My favorite is ‘What is success?’ by Ralph Waldo Emerson. [I] also love ‘If’ by Kipling.”
Of course, when taken as forerunners to Smith’s sensibilities as a songwriter, those poems and Tennyson’s above quoted “Ulysses” make perfect sense. As a musician, a writer, a professional and a family man, Smith appears most dedicated to live life to its fullest—“To strive, to seek, to find, and not to yield,” as Tennyson put it.
As much as strong family values and some of the most celebrated poets in literary history shape Smith’s artistic mentality, he finds that a strong sense of humor is just as important, which is why a portion of his concert at the Pavilion is planned to be hosted by his comedic alter ego, Earl Dibbles Jr., a satirical and beloved caricature of Texas “rednecks” who has appeared in several videos, has produced songs, regularly appears in Smith’s concerts and even published a book last year, “If You’re City, If You’re Country.”
“I think humor is a huge part of entertainment, and it has a rich history in the country music genre,” Smith said. “My goal is always to make people feel something, and laughter is a huge part of that recipe. I love making people smile.”
Opening for Granger Smith—and Earl Dibbles—on June 29 will be Nashville-based singer-songwriter McKenna Faith. In 2012, when she was just 17, Faith debuted her first single, “Head Over My Boots for You.” In the course of the following three years, she released two full-length albums and an EP, and has been steadily rising in popularity since then.
Her clear-toned voice belts out anthemic lyrics in shoe-stompers like “We Like Trucks” and “Obvious,” but she seems just as comfortable slowing things down in more contemplative tracks like “Coffee in the Morning.”
Both Smith and Faith have performed in the Sun Valley area a number of times in the past, and expressed excitement at the upcoming return. Smith said Sun Valley is “one of the prettiest areas” he has visited and home to “some of the best fans.” Occasionally, if touring nearby, the singer will even schedule in a few off-days just to drive up here and relax.
Tickets for the show at the Sun Valley Pavilion are still available, but are selling quickly. Prices range from $35-$80, depending on seating tier.
Visit sunvalley.ticketfly.com for details. To hear a sneak preview of the music, look up Granger Smith and McKenna Faith on iTunes, YouTube or Spotify, or visit their respective websites, grangersmith.com and mckenna-faith.com.
Chris Melville: firstname.lastname@example.org