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Published: Thursday, 3/29/2012 - Updated: 2 years ago

Entering the land of Canaan Smith

BY BRIAN DUGGER
BLADE STAFF WRITER
Canaan Smith, a new country artist who is opening for Sugarland at the Huntington Center on April 5. Canaan Smith, a new country artist who is opening for Sugarland at the Huntington Center on April 5.
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Canaan Smith was shuffling around his home in Nashville, talking on the phone to an interviewer, trying to portray himself as a seasoned, polished performer.

But the strategy soon fell apart and he reverted to that little kid receiving a bike on Christmas morning. "Sugarland. How about that for the first tour? Fifteen days from now in Toledo," he gushed.

He spoke those words last week, so he is even closer to what he expects to be a life-changing experience when he takes the stage in front of a sold-out Huntington Center crowd April 5 as Sugarland opens its "In the Hands of the Fans" tour in Toledo.

"I imagine it's going to feel like I felt when I stepped in the inner circle of the Grand Ole Opry to play for the first time three weeks ago," Smith said. "It's one of those moments where you're overcome with emotions because you're living out your dream. You will probably see me smile a lot."

RELATED STORY: Sugarland lets fans pick songs, build set list

It has been a couple of months of firsts for Smith, whose first name is biblically based and means "promised land." After living in Nashville for seven years and writing several songs that made it on the chart for other artists, including Love and Theft's "Runaway," Smith is getting the chance to play the leading man for the first time. His debut single, "We Got Us," was released on the radio at the beginning of the year. A couple of weeks later, he performed it at the Opry, and now he's part of a major tour.

"I wouldn't expect people to know me yet. I feel like I'm a horse in a gate. I'm ready for that gate to open so I can come charging out. The Sugarland tour is a dream come true, and I feel like that's the gate opening. I can't wait to be out in front of the masses and share my music with people."

Performing music is all he's ever wanted to do since his parents delivered to he and his four brothers and one sister a roomful of musical instruments for Christmas when he was 8 years old.

"I got the bug when I picked up that guitar. I fell in love with the idea of creating sound, creating music," Smith said.

The fact that his dad played in a local rock band in Williamsburg, Va., helped nurture his growing love for music. Music was on in the house all day -- everything from George Jones and George Strait to Rage against the Machine.

"I never had a problem getting up and entertaining people. I was always the clown of the family or class," he said. "After I realized my passion for music and I realized I could entertain people while doing it, I never wanted to stop."

Turning that love into a full-time gig after attending school at Nashville's Belmont University was a big challenge. But he caught a couple of breaks. The first was being a contestant on CBS' Amazing Race with then-girlfriend Mika Combs in 2009. That appearance introduced his name to millions of Americans. But the bigger professional break was when he began writing with Brett Beavers, who is best known for co-writing several of Dierks Bentley's biggest hits.

Beavers and Smith immediately clicked, and Beavers offered to produce an album for Smith. After shopping the material around town, Smith landed a deal with Mercury Records -- Sugarland's home.

It sounds tidy and neat, but it has been years of internal reflection and hard work for Smith to get to this point. Obviously, he's excited to show Toledoans the end result.

"When you're new to [Nashville], everyone thinks they are ready to be on stage with Carrie Underwood or Brad Paisley. I had that faith to be onstage, but I wasn't there yet, didn't have my craft honed. I would have gotten lost in the translation," he said. "It took seven years of discovery before I landed in my own skin comfortably and unapologetically and naturally.

"I'm proud that when I sit down to write or record now, there is nothing preconceived. I'm just singing or writing, and the by-product is Canaan Smith."

Contact Brian Dugger at bdugger@theblade.com. Follow him on Twitter: @DuggerCountry.



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