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From playing acoustic sets with his sister in Aromas Coffeehouse on Thursday nights to headlining during the release of his debut album, Williamsburg native Canaan Smith paid tribute to his stomping grounds.
Smith, a rising country music star, performed for a crowd of more than 2,000 people Monday night in a free show he called his “homecoming party.”
The Lafayette High School graduate headed for Nashville, Tenn., soon after graduating to pursue music and songwriting. His first album Bronco — filled with references to Virginia and Williamsburg — is in stores today.
“It’s my stomping grounds,” he said of Williamsburg. “It’s important to me just to kind of show people I haven’t forgotten this town. It’s meant a lot to me.”
The eighth song he played for the crowd was “Stomping Grounds,” from the album Bronco.
“This right here is a tribute to having my roots in Williamsburg, Virginia,” he told the crowd. “Ya’ll raised me right … for the most part.”
Old friends, teachers and neighbors welcomed him back at the free concert and sang his praises after seeing him for the first time in a decade.
“I’m just so happy that it actually worked out for him,” said Lisa Jacobsen Stone, a choir director who taught Smith at Lafayette, adding he was “humble and good-hearted.”
“There is not a single person, a single teacher, a single student that could say anything bad about him,” she said.
She said Smith was “doing so well that he was off all the time,” performing where he could, when he could.
Smith performed Christian alternative rock in high school with his band Anchor, but Stone said she was not surprised he transitioned to country music.
“He had that kind of voice,” she said.
Judy Yoffy, whose son Austin attended Jamestown High School and played soccer with Smith, met him backstage and said he is “exactly the same, as sweet as can be.”
His advice to young musicians trying to make it big was simple: “Discipline yourself, stay positive, keep believing, but surround yourself with people who are honest and not just 'yes' people.”
After performing two shows in Atlanta, Ga., and Greenville, S.C. to celebrate the release of his album, the Belmont University graduate gets back on the road to open for country star Dierks Bentley in his Sounds of Summer tour.
During the concert, Smith shared the story of his brother Nathaniel, who died in a car crash in Williamsburg at 16 years old. The title track is named for his brother, who Smith always associated with the blue-and-white Bronco he drove.
“It feels like he’s right here tonight,” he said before singing the song solo onstage.
Before playing his last song of the night — his hit single “Love You Like That” — Smith was surprised on stage with a plaque that marks the hit single as a gold record, which means it has sold more than 500,000 copies.
“I’ll tell you right now I’m never going to forget this night in Williamsburg,” he told the crowd at the end of the night. “I’m going to come back to Williamsburg and play as often as I can.”