Bulldog Balladeer

by Liza Mitchell
Fall in Florida ushers in those old familiar feelings. Cooler temperatures, football, tricks or treats, football, the Fair and, well, football. It also draws thousands of fans to the First Coast for one of the biggest college rivalries of the season – Florida/Georgia weekend.
For the last five years, Georgia-bred musician Corey Smith has been a fixture among the festivities. Smith’s laid back nature and progressive country sound strike an easy balance among the frenzy and chaos of the football crowds. And he likes that just fine.
Smith will perform Friday, October 29 at The Florida Theatre, a “classy” venue compared to some of the “crappy little bars” that he came up in as a struggling artist. Playing in a nice, seated theatre is a definite step up but Smith said the wide open space makes it more challenging when trying to connect with his audience.
“The main thing is to be aware of what‘s going on around me. It’s harder to create those intimate moments with the crowd but that doesn’t mean [the intimacy] is not there,” Smith said during a recent phone interview. “I look out and see the people dancing and smiling. I pay attention. The more I’m in the moment myself, the more I can connect with the audience.”
Though Smith admits he is a season ticket holder in his home state, he enjoys the competition between the Florida/Georgia camps and his position as a sort of ambassador of peace during his show.
“The Florida Theatre is always a special show. There is a lot of rivalry between the fans and music has the power to transcend those boundaries and bring people together.”
Smith’s honest performance style has generated a following of dedicated fans that keep coming back to every show. They know all the words and raise their beers and smile as they sing along. They are more like a family and they’ve seen Smith grow up on stage before their eyes.
“I’m not one to run around on stage and hype up the crowd,” he said. “[My fans] are most familiar with my catalog and they come back and stay engaged the whole time. I like to see people chilling out and forgetting about their troubles for a while.”
Smith’s approach to song writing is as organic as his connection to his fans. He doesn’t have to try too hard with either for it to feel good. He’s not one for fancy marketing campaigns and he doesn’t need the backing of a big record label to put out quality music. Smith’s most recent release “Keeping up With the Joneses” hit the number one spot on the iTunes Singer/Songwriter album chart, placing him ahead of such major players as James Taylor, Amos Lee and Simon & Garfunkel.
To date, Smith has sold over 150,000 albums and an estimated 750,000 singles – all without the benefit of a major deal or significant radio play. Like a great story passed down form generation to generation, Smith’s success is largely attributed to word of mouth.
“I hope people like it,” said a humble Smith. “I come from a small town in Georgia so the country element is there. There is a rock element to my music too so it’s not as traditional. It’s rough around the edges.”
Growing up, Smith said his musical tastes were varied but not obscure. He counts everyone from Eric Clapton, Lynyrd Skynyrd and The Who to the Dave Matthews Band, Nirvana and Matchbox 20 as his early influences.
“I listened to a lot of different types of music, whatever was popular at the time. I was not a record geek. I don’t have that sophisticated of a palette,” he said. “When I started playing covers in little dives bars, I had to learn to play a lot of music that I didn’t even like. I just did what I had to do.”
Smith insists that the juxtaposition from his early pop years to his current homegrown sound was not intentional. It just worked out that way, a natural evolution of an honest artist pounding the pavement to make people happy.
“That’s my job. I want to continue to tour and get out in front of my fans,” he said. “My career was born and is maintained by getting out there on the road. I just want to reach as many people as I can.”