Monday, Jun 18, 2018
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Music-Theater-Dance

Caitlyn Smith's telling stories from the heart

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    Caitlyn Smith.

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    The cover for Caitlyn Smith's newest album, "Starfire."

Caitlyn Smith was checking things off her to-do list recently as she called The Blade to discuss opening for Faith Hill and Tim McGraw in Toledo on Friday and Saturday nights. At the top of the list was one very important task: “I’m trying to find clothes to fit over my baby bump,” she says, chuckling.

Baby No. 2 will be along in November to join big brother Thomas, who was born on Aug. 7, 2016.

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Caitlyn Smith.

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“I thought for so long that I needed to wait to have a family until after stuff with my career started, but after having babies, that’s when stuff has really started taking off. That’s OK with me,” she says.

Smith released Starfire, her first full-length album, in January. And after opening a few dates for Tim and Faith last year, the Minnesota native learned earlier this year that she would be the main opener on the summer leg of the country superstars’ Soul2Soul Tour.

“I’m so pumped about the opportunity. They are incredible performers — and people. I’m excited to learn from them. They are legends,” Smith says. “It’s a wonderful learning opportunity. I can go into a club and be comfortable and know how to work the room. But when you get into an arena, it’s a totally different story. To be a performer and an entertainer in an arena is a new opportunity for me.”

More than anything, The Soul2Soul tour is an opportunity to introduce herself to sold-out crowds every night. The Minnesota native was a rising star in the Nashville writing community long before she signed her current record deal with Monument Records. She has written cuts for James Bay, Rascal Flatts, Garth Brooks, Dolly Parton, Lady Antebellum, Cassadee Pope, and she also was a writer on Meghan Trainor’s megahit “Like I’m Gonna Lose You.” But she has had limited radio play so far as a recording artist.

“I don’t think I fit neatly in a box. I’m a chameleon in the writing room,” Smith says of her ability to switch between country and pop music. “I pride myself on being a chameleon. When it comes to the end of the day, it’s about a great song for me. I want to feel it in my toes when I sing it.”

Though she did not necessarily envision herself as a recording artist, Smith knew in high school that Nashville was the place for her. Loving the creative spirit of the writing community she found in Music City, she eventually began taking regular trips to the city — loading a suitcase in her Dodge Neon and making the 12-hour trip every time she had socked away enough money from her job at the YMCA and from gigs in Minnesota. 

About eight or nine years ago, she and her husband, Rollie, decided to take the plunge as full-time songwriters in Nashville.

“Living off a writer’s draw is quite humbling. We did the best we could,” Smith says. “We were thankful to be in Nashville, but we were pretty broke. It was quite the adventure.”

The adventure looked like it was about to end after money problems forced a return to Minneapolis. But one night, over a bottle of wine, the couple wrote “Wasting All These Tears,” a song that became a top-10 and platinum hit for Cassadee Pope.

“Writing that song as a couple actually enabled us to come back to Nashville, so it is pretty special to us,” Smith says.

Those early struggles provided good material for Starfire. Smith bared her soul throughout the album, including on “This Town Is Killing Me”: Nashville, you win/Your steel guitars and/Broken hearts have done me in/I gave you my soul/’Cause I wanted it so bad/And now I just wanna go home/This town is killing me.

Smith found that being vulnerable and spilling deeply personal feelings on the album was therapeutic and liberating.

“I had pitched a few records before that were unreleased. I felt I had to write songs and do what the guy at radio wanted to hear. I was trying to write for radio or what I thought the label wanted to hear,” Smith says. “[On Starfire], I said I was going to make a record of songs I loved. I wasn’t going to think about radio, genre, or the record guy down the street. So I wrote really personal songs, unafraid of telling my story. I’m really proud of the record.”

Her storyteller spirit will be on full display in Toledo, where she will play cuts from the new album.

“A big piece of my show is that I am a storyteller, so I like to bring people in and tell them the stories behind the songs. I might even try out some new songs on people,” Smith says.

In has been a winding, and at times torturous, journey for Smith, but she continues to find comfort and joy in sharing the journey with her family. Rollie plays acoustic guitar and provides backing vocals in her band. Thomas travels on the bus. She calls her clan a band of traveling gypsies.

“I am feeling so good. I’m just excited to be back on the road. And what a fun tour to be part of.”

Faith Hill and Tim McGraw, along with special guest Caitlyn Smith, will be in concert at the Huntington Center on Friday night and Saturday night at 7:30. Friday’s show is sold out. Tickets for Saturday’s concert can be purchased at the box office, at Ticketmaster outlets, by phone at 419-321-5007 or 800-745-3000, or online at ticketmaster.com.

Contact Brian Dugger at bdugger@theblade.com or on Twitter @DuggerBlade.

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