Saturday, July 11, 6 p.m.
FreeBond Park’s Sertoma Amphitheatre
801 High House Road, Cary
The banjo rules everything around Hank Smithwell, almost. He’s played it in multiple traditional outfits for almost a decade, added the banjo to area pop-rock acts, built the world’s only tribute to Béla Fleck and taught frequent five-string lessons.
But he’s more than a skilled picker: He hosts a weekly music series at Tir Na Nog called Beer & Banjos, meant to show that the instrument can reach outside of the bluegrass songbook. In recent years, he has become a genre ambassador for the Triangle, too. He’s immersed himself in the International Bluegrass Music Association’s annual World of Bluegrass conference in Raleigh, becoming an emissary between the organization and the city.
Smith, however, wasn’t always so keen on IBMA. When World of Bluegrass was still based in Nashville, he attended the program as a member of The Kickin Grass Band and wasn’t impressed. When the institution brought the event to Raleigh, though, he saw how the city and IBMA mutually benefited from each other. IBMA got an engaging and engaged host city that accommodated it, and Raleigh got another event and an extra economic boostlast year, visitor spending topped $10 million.
Earlier this year, Smith participated in IBMA’ s “Leadership Bluegrass,” an intense program where participants learn the ins-and-outs of the bluegrass business, from booking and promotion to media and musicianship.
“If I’m going to make a career out of this,” Smith explains, “I should have some knowledge of the industry that supports it.”
One of his classmates was Ron Raxter, a founder of the roots-music syndicate PineCone. Raxter recruited Smith for a local organizing committee for IBMA. When IBMA returns to Raleigh in September, he will lead a conversation on the state of bluegrass. He hopes to encourage talk about tradition, progression and diversity in a corner of the music industry generally dominated by aged white men.
Smith points to these new duties as an extension of the community outreach work he has long done with the Boys & Girls Clubs.
“This is essentially the same thing, except I’m doing it with bluegrass. I can use those skills that I learned in that context to put towards this now,” he says. “I feel like it’s just part of my job.”