It was so unbelievably hot at this year’s three-day Austin City Limits Music Festival that you were generally left with two options: don’t move or drink another $4 Heineken (which never, ever tasted so good). If you were lucky, you could do both. And if you happened to be at Mindy Smith’s performance in your state of catatonia and half-baked beer buzz, it was one of the coolest spots at the festival.
19 Sep 2004: Austin City Limits Music Festival Austin, Texas
A fresh face in the folk/alt-country scene, Nashville resident Smith this year released her debut album, One Moment More. Smith is still relatively unknown, but she is one of few singer-songwriters with a voice that will literally pull you into her music within seconds. Case in point: as soon as Dolly Parton heard an early demo of Smith singing Parton’s classic song “Jolene”, she sought out Smith for the 2003 Parton tribute album, Just Because I’m a Woman. It speaks volumes that a musical legend like Parton said Smith’s version of “Jolene” is the best she’s ever heard.
It’s too bad, then, that the richness of Smith’s voice often got buried in the grandiosity of the Austin City Limits Music Festival. People were swarming in all directions and amps vibrating with drums and bass tended to drown out Smith’s delicate vocals. Smith was also difficult to see, unless you were lucky enough to be up close to watch her perform in front of you versus on the massive screen set up for the thousands of concert-goers gathered in clusters several hundred feet back.
Still, against the racket of the festival’s 130 acts, Smith’s strength lied in her use of quiet. Accompanied by acoustic guitars and mandolins, Smith’s moving lyrics about loss and redemption entranced people in the audience who might be thinking about their own struggles. In “Hurricane”, which she said was “about missing someone,” Smith’s voice seemed to be scraping the surface of something far more personal than you would expect to be exposed in a music concert: “I need a hurricane/to empty out this place/Seems it’s the only way/To salvage any sense I have left/To move on.”
It wasn’t all boo-hoos. “Come to Jesus”, Smith’s first song to hit the radio, showed that even songs about Jesus can be enjoyable to annoyed atheists when sung properly. In “Hard to Know”, out came the electric guitars and voice distortion, which is an unusual departure from Smith’s typically clean, barebones sound. Smith showed that she can play the pop star card with this song, but her strengths as a singer shined with her more tender songs that showcase the originality of her voice.
This couldn’t have been more evident than when she launched into “One Moment More”, the title track of the album that she dedicated to her mother, who she said lost her battle with cancer. As she pleaded, “Please don’t go/Let me have you one moment more/Oh, all I need/All I want is just one moment more,” the rawness and desperation in her voice was enough to mist the eyes of hundreds of strangers.
Smith played through the heat for 45 minutes, frequently thanking the Austin music scene for supporting her music and fans for sticking around when many would have be happier with their heads jammed into an icebox. “You guy are troopers,” she shouted. For all her emotionally charged songs, Smith revealed her giddy side when she described coming to Austin on the same plane as Elvis Costello, another festival act. “We were all like, ‘Is that him?! Is that him?!’” she giggled.
Keep an eye on this one. I guarantee she is going places.