Sky Smeed was born and raised outside of Chanute, Kansas, in an old, one-room schoolhouse his parents bought and turned into a home in the early 1970s. Last year, he sold the country home he built by hand and migrated to Lawrence, Kansas, a place that has provided a non-stop supply of creativity, community and culture, and began settling in to an old fixer-upper on the north side of the Kaw River.
“I was spending so much time in Lawrence recording my last album Drive All Night and playing shows in the Kansas City area that I fell in love with being here,” Smeed said. “Maybe someday I’ll move back out to the country, but right now it’s a great thing to be able to walk to the store for groceries.”
Lawrence, too, helped reel in the lyrics and music for “Bumper Sticker”, the crowd favorite from Sky’s new album Lunker Bass (Digital Release: Feb. 1, 2017, Physical Release: March 1).
“You can learn a lot about a person’s taste in music, ideology and humor from the back of their car,” Smeed laughed. “I kept noticing bumper stickers everywhere, so I took note of a bunch of bumper sticker slogans and arranged them into a song in 30 minutes. It makes no sense, but it kind of rhymes!”
Much of the material on Lunker Bass came together quickly and naturally; from Lawrence to London, Smeed has found a groove or sweet spot in his songcraft, yielding the pub-pleasing “Small Town Celebrations”, heartfelt ballads like “Starting All Over Again” and “Hard Man to Love”, and the title cut’s vivid narrative. “’Lunker Bass’ is as true as any fishing story should be,” Smeed laughs, recalling going fishing in his youth with his dad, who told him “one of these days we’ll catch that lunker bass.” Lo and behold, his dad snagged that bass on the last cast of the day, but always gave his son credit for landing the legendary fish.
Smeed hopped across the pond for two tours in 2016 with U.K-based folk songwriter Beans on Toast, who knew right away European audiences would go head-over-heels for Sky’s country tinged tunes of working hard, dogs, love, money, beer, coffee, and the call of the road. The first tour, dubbed the Small Town Celebrations Tour, inspired the song of the same name. The following tour, A Spanner in the Works, again paired Smeed with Beans on Toast for raucous routings through major markets including London and Manchester.
"I’ve seen Sky Smeed win over audiences all over the U.K. It’s impossible not to fall for his charm, his smile and his wonderful songs," Beans said.
To date, Smeed has self-released five full-length albums: Flying High (2002), The Front Steps (2004), Mill River (2006), Sky Smeed (2012) and Drive All Night (2015). His sixth album, Lunker Bass (2017), was recorded and produced at The Ninth Ward Pickin’ Parlor in Lawrence by none other than award-winning folk duo Truckstop Honeymoon (Mike & Katie West). Lunker Bass saw digital distribution on Feb. 1 and physical distribution on March 1.
To this day, Smeed remains an independent recording and performing artist, booking his own shows at bars, clubs, festivals, and listening rooms across the U.S. and Europe. He’s currently prepping his first solo tour across Europe in the summer of 2017, as well as non-stop touring across America in support of Lunker Bass.
Jack Hotel contains multitudes. A listen to the band's sophomore release, Voices from the Moon, reveals a range that encompasses Ry Cooder and Leo Kottke, Gillian Welch and Townes Van Zandt, Mississippi John Hurt and Etta Baker--but this band is no mere product of its influences. Since their start in 2012, Jack Hotel has proven itself one of the best, and most original, folk/Americana acts in the midwest.
A storyteller's sensibility prevails in their songs. Bandleader Günter Voelker writes with a novelist's powers of observation and a poet's ear for language, and the instrumentation meets the same standard. Each addition serves the song, advances the story, or drives home the emotion. Jack Hotel has earned respect on both regional and national stages, performing alongside such acts as Darrell Scott, J.D. McPherson, Pert' Near Sandstone, Frontier Ruckus, and Charlie Parr. In 2014 they opened for Willie Nelson and Neil Young at Nebraska's Harvest the Hope concert.
Following the success of their first record, Good Sons and Daughters (which landed a #3 spot on Hear Nebraska's Favorite Albums of 2014), Voices from the Moon was released in 2016, earning an OEAA nomination for Album of the Year.