A SHORT HISTORY OF SMITHFIELD FAIR
Uncommon Music (Updated 8/2/16)
Influenced by the eclectic 1960s and 1970s folk-based groups with their big harmonies and acoustic instruments, Smithfield Fair was born (initially under the name ‘Laughter’) in the fertile creative music scene of Pensacola, Florida in mid-1973. Singer/songwriter/multi-instrumentalist Dudley-Brian Smith, already active in the late 1960’s/early 1970’s singer/songwriter movement, formed the group to concentrate on original works sung with harmony over acoustic instrumentation – a focus remaining today. In 1974, the group was signed to Nashville-based GWS Records and recorded with famed producer Bud Reneau (Dobie Gray, Quadrophonic Studios) with Gene Lawson (Lonnie Mack, Lawson Microphones) engineering and sitting in on drums. However, the label folded before the single’s release. Shortly after, the group attempted recording in Muscle Shoals, but a power outage halted the sessions. They would then record in Pensacola with engineer/producer Joe Moore (Compass Point, acclaimed mystery author - 'Cotton Stone' mysteries).
Dubbed by a reviewer as "the perfect cafe band', the group kept its attention on performance and increasing its regional following, with founding members Dudley-Brian and Dwight Beebe joined by Dudley’s brothers, Joel and Bob. By mid-1976,
the three brothers had moved the ensemble back to their home in Central Louisiana, changing the group’s name to ‘Charmer’. In 1977, the trio released the single “A Place In Your Heart” on Floyd Soileau’s legendary One Way/Flat Town Records with Joe Avants engineering. The group continued to work regionally concentrating on a mix of original material and unusual arrangements of traditional and contemporary songs.
After founding its own independent label in 1980, their first album, “Only The Wind”, (beginning a long-standing association with engineer/co-producer David Praet) was released to enthusiastic critical and radio response and the group appeared in concert with such artists as Louisiana’s LeRoux, Zachary Richard and Arlo Guthrie. Their second album was intended for a re-formed Capricorn Records, but when the label faltered this album, too, was released independently. This would convince the group that the artistic freedom of their own label was well worth the trade-off.
Singer/songwriter Jan (Dedon) Smith joined in 1983 during the hiatus of Joel Smith (who returned in 1985 and stayed until 1990) and over the next six years the ensemble would release an additional six albums of original songs, expanding its audience with continual touring and concert performances with such acts as Jesse Winchester, John Fahey, Nanci Griffith, John Prine, Zachary Richard and The Washington Squares.
In 1989, the group shifted yet again, changing its name to Smithfield Fair and focusing on traditional songs of its shared Scottish heritage and original songs written with traditional styles and themes. Ultimately becoming acknowledged as
one of the foremost presenters of traditionally Scottish-based music in North America, Smithfield Fair signed a four-album deal in 1996 with Centaur (World) Records, assuring them of international distribution. Critics have often commented that group originals sit comfortably and easily beside centuries-old Scottish songs. Between 1989 and 2010, Smithfield Fair’s independent Stevenson Productions would release some 15 compact discs of Scottish/Celtic-themed music, three books of Scottish-themed stories, and see the group perform in Scotland and continually throughout the United States. They even composed a candidate for Scotland’s new national anthem (“Scotland, Fair Scotland”) and, among other songs, their “Longships” became a staple of Celtic radio and was used as background music for a viral You Tube video featuring an inexplicable ‘sea monster’ appearance. During this period of extreme success the group shared stages with a who’s who of Celtic music luminaries such as Alasdair Fraser, Alex Beaton, Eileen Ivers (Riverdance), The Battlefield Band, Tannahill Weavers, Andy M. Stewart and Archie Fischer to name but a few.
Feeling the creative winds shifting yet again, in 2006 Smithfield Fair turned back to its specific focus on original songs and began to build anew its reputation for a Southern-Americana folky mix awash with elements of jazz, swing, blues and gospel. As in the beginning, many of their songs reflect life in the Deep South, a land shrouded in the mystery of balmy summer nights and sugarcane-lined highways, where time is measured between hurricanes and eccentric souls find their place. With the release of MARBLES in 2015, Smithfield Fair has released 30 albums to date and continues to enjoy international airplay on internet, satellite (such as Pandora, Syrius/XM, etc.) and conventional radio and its compositions have found place on television, cable, in movies, podcasts, radio promotions, and on web-cast programs.
Maintaining as always an active-but-selective performance schedule, Smithfield Fair has performed at the New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival, the Kerrville Folk Festival, the World’s Fair, Dallas International Festival, Carolina Celtic Festival, and such legendary venues such as Anderson Fair and Rockefeller’s in Houston and the Storyville Jazz Hall in New Orleans.
Band member photography by T.J. Shuflin