Humble yet secure in her place among the many vocalists in North East Florida, Melissa Smith’s power as a performer and singer cannot be disputed. Raven haired with a sweet demeanor, she is a force when she opens her mouth to sing. As an only child growing up in her native New Jersey, Melissa says music was her best friend. At an early age, she fell in love with rock and soul and was impacted by Mick Jagger’s unique voice and British swagger. In her early teens she discovered country music at a pivotal time when country music’s roots were still being rightly upheld through two of her influences Travis Tritt and George Strait. To hear Melissa’s story of her first public performance, it is truly the stuff legendary music tales are made of. She was underage, when she and a girlfriend snuck into a blues bar. Her friend, without her knowledge informed the house band that was playing that night that Melissa could sing. Melissa belted out Bonnie Raitt’s “Something to Talk About”, leaving the crowd in awe as evidenced by the standing ovation she received after hitting the epic high note that is the song’s signature. Foregoing college, she headed to Nashville, dream in hand and was offered a record deal at the age of seventeen. Melissa went with her gut and declined the offer not feeling it was right for her. She took her God given gift to Jacksonville, sharing the stage with Artemis Pyle at Freebird in its glory days and performing with Keith Urban to a crowd of forty thousand people. She refers to singing with Urban at Country Super fest as another definitive moment that instilled in her that making music was absolutely what she was meant to do.
Fast forward to today and Melissa has formed a new band joined by excellent players she has known for years. Wildifire Rising is a combination of passion, fire and experience that includes Ivan Pulley, Sebastion Stuto and Michael Calderin. You can hear it in her enthusiasm when she describes them, this is her dream band.
One thing that Melissa doesn’t lack is humility and graciousness. During our chat she had nothing but, praise for her brothers and sisters in the Jacksonville music scene. She points out that often women are not viewed as powerful as men but, so many female artists have same attention to their craft as their male counterparts. Joining her is a legion of strong female musicians who she also respects and admires. She describes Caitlin McWilliams, leader of the Cat McWilliams as I have also found her to be, a solid musician who has a calm presence but, when she gets on stage, she is guns a blazing. At her homestead of Whiskey Jax Baymeadows, Melissa is hosting her second straight showcase of female artists on September 30th, the aptly titled Duval Divas. Melissa states that she wanted to combine, different approaches and styles under one common bond and heart. She will be accompanied by Jax Idol 1st runner up Celia Guerrero who performs as HelloCelia, MJ Baker and her co-host, angelic voiced singer/songwriter Cassidy Lee. This is the second of many more of its kind and Melissa has even dropped some hints for the next one, rumor has it that Kim Reteguiz of the Black Cat Bones may be joining the already impressive roster of female chanteuses. This writer believes that the goal of celebrating each artist’s individual talents while coming together will continue to be achieved. Do not miss Duval Divas at Whisky Jax Baymeadows located at 10915 Baymeadows Road #135, Jacksonville, FL 32256 September 30th, 7:30-10:30pm.
Photo Courtesy of Steve Janowicz