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Reaching for a star: Kacey Smith hopes to become next country sensation

Sunday, January 22, 2012

Kacey performs with Daniel Kleindienst, left, at an event at the Jack Daniel Distillery.
(Photo courtesy Camilla Kleindienst)
There's a small buzz brewing in music circles in Nashville. A young singer and songwriter has been in development for most of the past year, and she's getting ready to break loose in 2012.

The industry insiders who have heard her sing recognize the "It" when they hear it, and a launch into the country music stratosphere isn't so far-fetched an idea.

Hometown hero

Kacey Smith
(Photo courtesy Michelle Rollins)
Folks in Bedford County just know her as Kacey Smith, a Cascade graduate they've watched grow up over the years. She began singing in church at age 2, served a stint as a singing dishwasher at a local eatery when she was 16 and went on to win the title of Bedford County Idol.

She, along with her mother Debbie, has performed in Hee Haw and Howdy, the local American Cancer Society's perennial benefit show for many years, and last fall packed in a crowd at the Bedford County Fair.

Locals don't need a musical training or a good ear to know "It" when they hear it.

"That girl can sing," they say. They linger after a show, take a photo for Facebook, ask for an autograph without being sure why, exactly. It's just instinct which tells them the signature will be a keepsake someday.

She's still Kacey

Yet at 21, she's still a down-home country girl who loves mom and dad, Randy, and her little brother Cody, 17. She's a honors college student, rides a four-wheeler for fun - sometimes badly - and she makes runs to Walmart sans make up and a hairstyle. At least for a little while longer.

She's already had the experience of being recognized, chatted up in the big box store by perfect strangers who seem to know her well already. "I realized, oh wow, I've got to go to Walmart looking good," she laughed.

She's everything that she seems to be on stage - charming, quirky and funny. Her persona is old-school. Think Dolly. Loretta.

She plays the guitar, just learned to play the mandolin, and writes many of her own songs.

Then there's the voice - distinctive and sultry, and not easily associated with a style or a sound of any of the current stock of contemporary country artists on the rosters at Nashville labels.

Winning team

Daniel and Camilla Kleindienst first met Kacey about a dozen years ago when she was 10 -- their daughters played basketball together. The self-termed 'dynamic duo' has a long history in the music industry and formed Banner Music in Nashville, while maintaining their Bedford County home.

In the recording studio
(Photo courtesy Camilla Kleindienst)
They had heard of a young lady locally with a phenomenal voice, but it would be 2009 before their paths would cross again.

Since then, they've become her managers, Daniel her on-stage accompanist and close collaborator on many of the original songs she's crafted.

They've also become like family, as the pair has shepherded and prepared the young singer for the next steps. "I call them Momma K, and Daddy K," said Kacey. "They are really important to me."

Climbing the ladder

Veterans of the industry, the Kleindiensts have taken the last 18 months to give Kacey time to develop.

"There's more to being a performer than just the singing part," said Camilla. Record labels are hard to impress, and increasingly when considering new talent, they want a professional, seasoned performer as well. "They aren't looking to invest in someone developing."

"We've managed other artists, we've been doing this for a long time," said Camilla. "But I haven't personally worked with anyone yet, that every single time she performs -- without exception -- people are asking, 'How can we get her booked again? How do we stay in touch with her?'"

"We are exactly where we want to be," said Daniel. "We've been talking about 'January' for months. If things keep progressing, with her learning to work the microphone, her stage presence is really good -- we think she's there now."

Life on the road

Getting there has meant performing before a live audience -- nearly 100 shows in the last year and a half -- from the Moon Pie Festival in Bell Buckle, to events at Jack Daniels Distillery, the Blue Bird Cafe and a Texas Songwriters Cruise.

After growing up serving as an usher at the Tennessee Walking Horse National Celebration, Kacey was invited to sing the National Anthem there last year.
(Photo courtesy Camilla Kleindienst)
In the next weeks she will go into the studio to record songs for her album. This Wednesday she became a member of the Country Music Association (CMA).

There's a meeting with a label next week, and meetings scheduled with industry execs through the spring.

She has confirmed bookings in Arkansas, Missouri, Mississippi, Oklahoma and Pennsylvania. They are small venues, but the intimate setting helps build a connection with the audience.

Fanning the base

Part of the equation in becoming attractive to a label is fans. "The first thing an industry person will ask is, 'How many of those fans did you buy,'" said Camilla, referring to a marketing practice of buying addresses to build a fan base.

Kacey now has a fan club which boasts 800 members -- all friends and fans who have grown up with her, met her, heard her sing. "Join my fan club," says Kacey to everyone she meets.

Meanwhile, there's a necklace Kacey wears while performing sometimes. It's the 'best' half of a best friends charm given to her by her youngest fan, Savannah Butler. "That's why I like doing this," said Kacey.

It is remembering her younger fans that keeps her focused, reminds her that someone is looking up to her with high expectations.

"I've got to be good, you know? I've got to never do anything to make people think anything less of me."

On the web



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Rock on, Kacey...

-- Posted by James Anderson on Sun, Jan 22, 2012, at 8:10 AM

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