Ramblin’ Rhodes: Connie Smith is back for one of many encores

Connie Smith will perform on May 4 during the fifth annual Little Roy & Lizzy Music Festival near Lincolnton, Ga. SPECIAL

My love affair with former Ohio housewife Connie Smith began in 1964 when her debut RCA Records single Once A Day (All Day Long) written by Grand Ole Opry star Bill Anderson was released.

 

I was a freshman at the University of Georgia when I heard her extraordinary voice on the radio for the first time.

All through my college years I would go to Kmart and buy every new album she had out until I was drafted for the U.S. Army in the summer of 1967.

I still have her first self-titled album released in March 1965 with backside notes written by fellow UGA journalism school graduate Anderson, who also would become my long-time friend.

“Connie Smith is no here today, gone tomorrow,” he predicted. “She’s here today, and she’ll be back for many encores on many tomorrows.”

And so it is that Smith, half a century later, will be returning to the Augusta area to perform a 90-minute show at 8:30 p.m. Thursday, May 4, at Elijah Clark State Park, Georgia Highway 378, east of Lincolnton, Ga., for the Fifth Annual Little Roy &Lizzy Music Festival.

Tickets for Smith’s show and the full-day of entertainment beginning at 11 a.m. are $45 advance or $55 at the gate.

Other acts that day will include Marty Raybon (lead vocalist of Shenandoah), Gaither Homecoming TV special stars Jeff &Sheri Easter and also The Marksmen and The Band Kelley.

Visit adamsbluegrass.com to reserve tickets or for other festival information.

Little did I know after first hearing her that I would be crossing Smith’s path repeatedly and always, always, always be impressed by her sweet nature and incredible talent.

The first time I saw her in person was in early 1973 from the balcony of the historic Ryman Auditorium in Nashville, Tenn., when it still was the official home of the Opry. Smith that night sang You and Your Sweet Love during the 8 p.m., 30-minute segment sponsored by the Martha White Flour company and broadcast live over WSM-AM radio station.

I had taken a bus trip organized by WFNL-AM radio station to the Opry with my wife, Jackie, and other Augusta-area country music fans to see the Ryman building “one more time” before it was to be torn down and moved in pieces to the Opryland theme park. That demolition thankfully never happened, and the Ryman now is used in downtown Music City U.S.A. as the winter home of the Opry shows and for other concerts.

It was a couple of more years before I got to start doing phone interviews with Smith and say hello to her in person.

Who could possibly have guessed that my good bluegrass music friend, Marty Stuart, whom I met when he was playing mandolin in Lester Flatt’s band, would become Smith’s husband in 1997?

Or that the year before in March 1996 I would be sitting in a pew at Brentwood (Tenn.) United Methodist Church at Minnie Pearl’s funeral watching Smith sing an amazing version of How Great Thou Art with Stuart playing guitar?

But then again every time I have seen Smith perform on television or in person has been amazing. So don’t miss her on Thursday, May 4, at the Elijah Clark state park festival.

Besides Smith’s show, there will be two other 90-minute sets beginning at 8:30 p.m. with bluegrass queen Rhonda Vincent and country star Daryle Singletary on May 5 and vocal group superstars Oak Ridge Boys on May 6.

Other headliners on Friday, May 5: Leroy Troy of The Marty Stuart Show on RFD-TV, The Rebekah Long Band, The Chuck Wagon Gang; and on Saturday, May 6: The Jeff Little Trio, The Doug Flowers Band, The Moron Brothers and The Inspirations. Banjo king Little Roy Lewis and his performing partner, Lizzy Long, will perform all three days.

Tckets are $45 advance, $55 at gate on May 4-5 and $50 advance, $60 at gate on May 6 or $25 for ages 7-13.

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Here are some other upcoming events of note:

Steep Canyon Rangers with Symphony Orchestra Augusta: The North Carolina-based band performs at Bell Auditorium for the first time with SOA at 7:30 p.m. Thursday, April 27. Tickets are $43.52, $21.30 and $10.19 bought online at soaugusta.org. Call (706) 826-4705.

Veterans Salute by Winston Slade: Lincoln County, Ga., resident Winston Slade is showcasing his new sound at 8 p.m. Saturday, April 29, at American Legion Post 63, 90 Milledge Road, in Augusta. Tickets are $20 with proceeds going to improvements for the post building.

Dixie Echoes Returning: The legendary Southern gospel group Dixie Echoes is returning to this area with performances at 7 p.m. Thursday, May 4, at Silvercrest Baptist Church, 3431 Peach Orchard Road, and 6 p.m. Saturday, May 6, at Hopeful Baptist Church in Blythe.

The group, which first began performing at Bell Auditorium in the 1960s, has recorded more than 70 albums.

Two past members, Jesse Gillis “J.G.” Whitfield and Dale Shelnut, have been inducted into the Southern Gospel Music Hall of Fame.

See Connie Smith sing her first hit single Once A Day.
 

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