New in town and looking for fellow musicians
Street musicians in New Orleans are those people who sing and play guitar with the case open at their feet to collect money, right?
“Damn straight,” Robyn Smiley said, poised to light another cigarette at Doc Holliday’s Bar on Grand Avenue. “That’s exactly what it is. You sit down on the bench, break open and play. A few minutes later someone else comes along. ‘Hey, want to join in?’ By the end of the afternoon you have a full band playing. You split the pot and some of you have some merchandise to sell. I had CDs. It was pretty lucrative.”
Smiley has a no-nonsense attitude, with a voice almost as smoky as the bar. She would rather not have anyone read how old she is, but doesn’t look old enough to have a 29-year-old daughter and two grandkids.
“This is really my second childhood,” she admits. “I’m getting to pursue the dreams I had to push aside when I was raising a child.”
Smiley sings in a southern style while playing her 12-string. It’s a little bit of the blues, a little jazz and a little bluegrass.
Smiley spent the last 15 years in New Orleans. She came to this corner of the world on a whim. She wanted to pursue her music. She was watching the TV news one night when she saw a report about craigslist.org. She checked it out and connected with a couple musicians in Carbondale.
“I’d never been further west than the Mississippi,” Smiley said. “Well, never further than Baton Rouge.”
Her complaints so far have to do with the weather and the distinct absence of good seafood. But she likes the area and she’s playing a bit.
She plays on the Snowmass Mall from 2-5 p.m. today. She’ll play at Glenwood Music on Jan. 25 and she’s made an appearance at Steve’s Guitars. Right now, Smiley is mostly flying solo, but she wants to play with a band.
“I learned to play the guitar mostly to amuse myself,” Smiley said. “I don’t have the range and I can’t play the keyboard and I can’t play the drums and I can’t do all that at once.”
She’s hoping to find a few folks she can play with in the valley.
In the meantime, Smiley plays a mean 12-string guitar and let’s it rip so unabashedly that she can draw a crowd in a nearly empty Doc Holliday’s on a Wednesday afternoon.
Smiley’s 12-string is named Earl and he’s traveled with her to London and around the eastern part of the United States since she was 16.
“My dad bought my first guitar when I was 11 and he said that if I got good, he’d buy me a really nice one,” Smiley said. “He was good for his word.”
Smiley was adopted and said her parents weren’t sure what to do with her when she started singing at age 3. They plopped her into the church choir, where she flourished. She wrote a choir song when she was 14 and it was copyrighted and published in a national magazine by the time she finished high school.
Smiley didn’t move to New Orleans until her daughter, Shannon, was finished with school. Smiley and Shannon are close. Smiley wrote a song for her daughter called “Shannon’s Song.” It’s featured on Smiley’s “Down In Louisiana” album.
“I always sang it to her,” Smiley said. “When I recorded it with a band she said she didn’t like it. ‘I don’t like it because it’s not just you, Mom,’ she told me. I made her a promise after that that I would never sing it with a band again.”
Smiley went back to New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina and loaded her Mazda with six friends.
Smiley doesn’t think she’ll go back to New Orleans.
“I lived there during the best times, at the height of what she was,” Smiley said. “And I do call her ‘she.’ There was a saying there that she can rip you apart or she can take care of you. Some people just belong there.”
Smiley said she worried a return trip would kill the magic and mysticism of the place for her. She’s trying to get settled in here. She said it’s a big adjustment.
“I’ve been following the story of Buster, that dog they rescued from New Orleans,” Smiley said. “That dog was raised in a crime city, where dogs are trained to protect. Here, dogs are so friendly. I don’t blame that dog a bit. He was totally out of his element.”
Smiley marveled at the way people in this area leave their doors unlocked and the way they leave their keys in the car and the way people don’t smoke as much as they did in Louisiana. She talked about not wanting to be out by herself at night in New Orleans and about the purse someone stole from her daughter’s house while she was sleeping on the couch.
So how’s she adjusting?
“I feel like Buster,” Smiley said. “This is a whole new element. People think in a whole different way and it’s a whole new way of life. It’s cool. I like it. (God) put me here for a reason and he gave me this voice for a reason.”
Contact Amanda Holt Miller at 625-3245 ext. 103
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