By Ben Westhoff and Sarah Purkrabek
By Steve Brennan
By Joseph Hess
By Allsion Babka
By Kelsey McClure
By RFT Music
By Christian Schaeffer
By Gabriel San Roman
Springfield, Missouri, which lies 30 minutes from the country-music Mecca/Hell of Branson, isn't exactly known as a Jamaica-level hotbed of musical beauty; it somehow manages to get outshone by its smaller, Andy Williams-sheltering neighbor. In fact, the Queen City of the Ozarks is best known, musically, for the early-'70s success of the Ozark Mountain Daredevils. Not much has happened since then.
So it's fitting that the biggest band to come out of Springfield in a while, Big Smith, draws from the same palette as its devilish forefathers, combining heavy doses of bluegrass with electrified gospel and a little crunchy southern rock. But with all of the members related to each other in one way or another, Big Smith draws from a musical tradition far older than just the Daredevils: A family affair best heard live and drawing from the traditional music of the region, Big Smith could be described as Skynyrd meets the Carter Family. Even when dipping into some Garcia-inspired psychedelic folk jams, Big Smith maintains its hillbilly cred with sweet mountain harmonies and a down-home stage persona.
As was confirmed by the band's double-disc live album, Gig, Big Smith shows are participatory affairs, not in the sense that crowd members are invited onstage to play the mandolin, but in that more old-fashioned, hand-clapping, foot-stomping way. The members of Big Smith make you feel like they just happen to be the guys onstage, you just happen to be in the crowd, and it's all just a party anyway. Try getting that in Branson.