Artist In Residence: Connie Smith

For tickets and information on all of the Connie Smith Artist in Residence shows click here.

August 22, 2011

On the first show of her 2011 artist-in-residence series at the Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum, singer Connie Smith displayed her devotion to the pedal steel guitar through words and performances that illuminated the instrument’s significance to her straight-ahead, hard-country sound.

Smith featured steel guitarist Gary Carter, a current member of her Sundowners band, and special guest steel players Robby Turner and Weldon Myrick during the concert in the museum’s Ford Theater. “If I was a musical instrument I would want to be a steel guitar,” Smith joked when introducing Turner midway through her seventeen-song set.

Smith was eager to share the spotlight with all eight musicians who joined her on stage in various combinations. Lending a conversational and intimate “living room” feel to the show, she briefly turned the mike to Turner and Myrick, providing them an opportunity to share stories and discuss their inspiration and craft. With the gesture, Smith seemed to suggest that in order to understand her music you must know a thing or two about the kinds of musicians she chooses to surround herself with.

A Grand Ole Opry star since 1965, Smith is the museum’s ninth artist-in-residence. She joins an esteemed list that includes Cowboy Jack Clement, Earl Scruggs, Tom T. Hall, Guy Clark, Kris Kristofferson, Jerry Douglas, Vince Gill, and Buddy Miller.

Smith opened the show with her 1972 Top Ten hit “If It Ain’t Love (Leave It Alone)” and crowd favorite “I Love Charlie Brown” backed by Sundowners Rod Ham on bass, Rick Wright on guitar, Ric McClure on drums, and Carter on steel. Guest guitarists Mark Casstevens and Paul Martin supplemented the band on most of the remaining songs.

Smith dedicated her 1973 single “You’ve Got Me” (Right Where You Want Me)” to her husband, Marty Stuart, who was seated in the audience. When reaching further back into her catalog for “I’ll Come Runnin’,” she encouraged Carter to take a hot solo, explaining that she often auditions her steel guitar players using that fast number. The singer also let the Sundowners shine on the instrumentals “Lonely Street” and “East Bound and Down.”

On the eve of releasing Long Line of Heartaches, her first album in thirteen years, Smith performed a handful of songs from the album, including three that she wrote with Stuart: “I’m Not Blue,” “Pain of a Broken Heart,” and the title track.

As Smith welcomed Myrick to the stage, she credited him for creating the “Connie Smith sound” in the mid-1960s, while an original member of the Sundowners band. Myrick remains very dear to her, Smith said, as the musician who created the signature licks on many of her popular recordings and as a longtime band member who watched out for her well-being on the road.

With Myrick and the Sundowners, Smith delivered her 1960s classics “You and Your Sweet Love” and “Once a Day.” Smith stepped aside for Myrick to sing Bobby Helms’s “Fraulein,” with Carter and Turner trading off on steel guitars. All three steel guitarists joined in on “Connie’s Song,” an instrumental medley of familiar Smith numbers.

Smith typically closes her shows with a gospel number, and she ended this classy, tasteful concert with “Amazing Grace.” Her remaining artist-in-residence performances are August 29 and September 12. They will follow different themes and feature different guests.

-Michael Gray