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For the second time in a month, Lake Matoaka Amphitheatre will play host to a major-label musician whose roots lie in Williamsburg.
Canaan Smith, a country artist whose single “Love You Like That” is currently No. 8 on the MediaBase country radio chart, will kick off a series of concerts celebrating the release of his debut album Bronco in his hometown Monday.
The free concert – the show is first come, first served – comes a day before the release of his album and about a month after Bruce Hornsby and the Noisemakers performed on the Lake Matoaka Amphitheatre stage for Tide Radio’s 10th birthday party.
“I remember when they redid [Lake Matoaka Amphitheatre], and I immediately wanted to play it,” said Smith, who has since moved to Nashville where he built a career in songwriting before signing a deal to record his own music. “I wanted to be able to come back and play that specific venue, and here we are. I love my stomping grounds, and I’m glad I get a chance to fulfill that dream.”
In less than a month, Smith will return to the area as an opener for Dierks Bentley’s Sounds of Summer Tour at the Virginia Beach Amphitheater — another venue on his list of dream gigs that stem from his Williamsburg childhood.
A 2001 graduate of Lafayette High, Smith has not performed in Williamsburg since the days of his childhood band Anchor, a Christian alternative rock group he formed with fellow Lafayette grads Gavin McDonald and Dan Brigham when he was in sixth grade.
The trio, which stayed together through his senior year of high school, learned as much about the music business as they did about performing and recording music, raising funds for their album by selling advance copies of it and promoting their own shows.
Smith credits his seven years in that band for giving him a “crash course” in what it means to be in a band.
“We just holed up in the garage all weekend long instead of going out and doing other things,” Smith said. “We were in the garage writing songs and learning how to play our instruments. It was just about diving into new records and new sounds and [older influences] and figuring out how to make my own thing out of it all.”
Smith traces his interest in performing music back to his father, Larry, who performed regionally with his band Streetlight throughout Smith’s childhood.
He saw the band members’ dedication to practicing and performing, often attending rehearsals and marveling at the process.
“You put guys in a room, they plug in instruments, make noise and it all somehow sounds good together,” Smith said. “Figuring out how to do that really made me come alive. It inspired me.”
Smith’s parents, Larry Smith and Cheryl Wilds, have also moved from the area to Florida and Tennessee, respectively, leading to his long absence from the area and his excitement for coming back.
The crowd will hear some familiar imagery during his set, as his song Stuck references the Chesapeake Bay and Virginia Beach, where he said he spent many summer days with his friends learning how to surf, skating down the boardwalk and “sneaking cigarettes when no one was looking.”
While eager to show his hometown what he has been up in the 10 years since he left Williamsburg, he also expects it to be an emotional return.
The title track of his album, Bronco, was written in honor of his late brother, Nathaniel, who died in a car accident in Williamsburg at 16 years old.
Smith, who was 11 at the time of Nathaniel’s death, has said he pictures the blue-and-white Ford Bronco his brother drove whenever he thinks of him. The image inspired the song, the song’s title and the tattoo of a bronco horse inked on Smith’s left arm.
“[Singing Bronco] in Williamsburg will probably be very impactful for me and the crowd,” Smith said, adding he expects the overall feel of the night to be “simply, just like coming home.”
Though the show at Lake Matoaka Amphitheatre is free, fans can buy a $34 VIP package that reserves them seats within the first 13 rows, access to a pre-show meet-and-greet with Smith, an autographed limited edition album release lithograph poster and a copy of his debut album.
“We’ve been burning it up out here on the road and I just can’t wait for my hometown to see what I do,” Smith said.