Stephanie Smith will be on the main stage at this week's Ichthus Festival twice, a Wednesday evening showcase of acts from her label, Gotee Records, and a 4:10 p.m. slot Thursday. But before that, she'll be in Lexington joining festival-goers who get into town early to work on a mission project organized by the festival and several Central Kentucky ministries and churches.
”One of my goals in this music-band-rock-star thing is not just to stand on the stage and show people that I like to sing,“ Smith says. ”I really have a heart to better the community and serve and love people at their point of need. This is an opportunity to do that and to get to know the community.“
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Smith's desire to serve is, in large part, due to the failure of her first attempt at a recording career.
”I went to college to pursue music and pursue the rock-star thing,“ Smith says.
It went well, and it went to her head. Her wake-up call came in a comment from her mother, who told her at 18, ”I don't care if this is all taken away from you, because I don't like who you've become.“
Smith ended up going on a soul-searching journey that included a trip to Guatemala, where she found herself carrying cinder blocks up a muddy hill to help people build sinks in their kitchens, and a trip to Africa, where for two weeks she lived on $1 a day.
”It gave me real insight into the world outside of America,“ Smith says. ”That opened my eyes to the real needs of our country. You don't have to go overseas ... I've seen real need, and to not do something about it, you'd have to be a real ignorant person.“
In the States, Smith has gotten involved in Soles for Souls, a group that collects used shoes for needy people, and the Chocolate Factory, which helps people stage chocolate tastings as charitable fund-raisers.
And, of course, she's playing music again.
When it comes to her music, Smith realized that she didn't need to leave the stage so much as she needed to be playing for the right reasons.
When she started playing again, things started going her way. At a battle of the bands, she ended up playing as a space filler for a band that was stuck in traffic, and she won the battle.
That earned her a gig at a festival that was being headlined by TobyMac, who's also headlining the Friday Ichthus lineup. The former dc talk member rolled in just in time to see Smith's set, and he talked to her afterwards. Part of his advice to Smith, who was still in college, was not to take the first recording contract offer she got. Then he ended up making that first offer a few months later when Smith sent a song into TobyMac's record label, Gotee.
Smith ”I said, "I don't know which you to listen to,'“ Smith recalled. She ended up waiting until after graduation to sign with Gotee. The label released her first album in April. So now, she's up on the stage, and she doesn't mind coming down and connecting with fans.
”I'm not on a stage where bodyguards tell them they can't touch me,“ Smith says. ”I'm getting my hands dirty with them.“
Battle of the bands
The festival has made some logistical changes over the past couple of years. It moved from April to June, the Ichthus Festival has been pushing and the music's start time on Thursday has become earlier and earlier. Now, festival-goers who arrive early can get a full three days of music, and even some more.
There's the Gotee showcase on the main stage Wednesday night, and Thursday morning cranks up with the Ascenxion Scout Competition's Battle of the Bands at 9:30 a.m. on the Deep End Stage.
The battle will pit the 10 winners of the online Scout competition against each other to determine who will get the grand prize of a main stage slot for a couple of tunes on Friday night. The third-place winner will play the Edge Stage late Friday afternoon and the second-place winner will play the same stage Saturday night.
The competitors come from as far away as California, though Thursday morning should have a distinctly Kentucky flavor with bands from Louisville (mile 7), Somerset (Live Fish), Whitesburg (Thusia), and Justin Harris, whose Myspace page simply lists him as being from Kentucky.
After that, at 12:30 p.m. Thursday, Cincinnati's Divine Day will play the Deep End, their reward for winning a Battle of the Bands at Cincinnati's Underground club last fall.