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Homegrown 0

Q&A: Smokey & The Mirror, True Ambassadors for Fayetteville Roots Scene

Smokey & The Mirror - photo by Dylan Duvall
photo by Dylan Duval

There are several reasons for that perception, but a lot of it has to do with local husband-and-wife team, Bryan and Bernice Hembree of folk duo, Smokey & The Mirror.

The couple has served as ambassadors for the local roots scene for nearly a decade, first as two-thirds of the popular touring band, 3 Penny Acre, and recently, as co-founders of the Fayetteville Roots Festival, an event they started five years ago with friends and frequent collaborators, Jerrmy Gawthrop and Clayton Suttle. At last count, ticket holders for the 2014 festival come from 22 states in the U.S., as well as the U.K. and Sweden.

Their latest musical collaboration, Smokey & The Mirror, has also been busy.

The band just released a live album with Raina Rose and Rebecca Loebe called Three Nights Live. They’re also hard at work on a new studio album , due out in early 2015. They’ve been touring pretty extensively this year, playing festivals, venues, and house concerts all over the country.

In a few weeks, the couple will perform two sets at this year’s Fayetteville Roots Festival, set for Aug. 28-31 at various locations around Fayetteville. Specifically, the band will play on the main stage on Saturday, Aug. 30 at 5 p.m., and at 6:15 p.m. with friends Raina Rose and Rebecca Loebe at the Sunday night festival closing concert on Aug. 31 at George’s.

Smokey& The Mirror - Live on Stage

We got in touch with Bryan and Bernice this week to talk a little bit about the new band, and this year’s nearly-sold-out Fayetteville Roots Festival.

Here’s what they had to say:

What have you been listening to lately?

Bernice is a big fan of 80′s on 8 on XM – I think she listens just to catch every Heart tune. Bernice spends her days with our daughter, Bergen, who’s 8. So, she gets her fill of kids music and pop hits. Paul Simon, Fleetwood Mac, and Guy Clark are her daily go-to’s. And she’s a big fan of John Elliott, Hayes Carll, and Lake Street Dive.

I’ve been listening to a bunch of new music. Hurray for the Riff Raff’s new album is great. Everyone should give it a listen. John Moreland out of Oklahoma is blowing me away right now. (John) Fullbright’s new album is tremendous as well.

We have been traveling a lot this summer. We listen to a ton of podcasts: Fresh Air. On Point. Ozarks at Large. Those podcasts help the miles melt off.

Tell us a bit about how Smokey and the Mirror came to be.

In April 2013, during a tour in support of our release of our third record Rag and Bone, Bayard and I had a long late night drive from Minnesota back to Arkansas. We talked a lot about where we were all headed. Bayard was getting ready to marry his long-term partner Janee, and he was getting more and more requests for his luthier work. On that drive he expressed that he wanted to take some time off. When we got back to Fayetteville and rested up we all had a big sit down and talked it out. We realized that it wouldn’t be 3 Penny Acre without Bayard.

Bernice and I wanted to keep touring and recording. One day shortly after that, Bernice and I looked at each other while driving to a gig, and realized that we had never really been in a duo together. We figured it was time, and said “why the hell not?”

That is how it happened. We have been having a blast out on the road and learning to playing as a duo. We are feeling very productive and inspired with this new musical endeavor.

Only in Arkansas - Smokey & The Mirror

You guys seem to be staying busy. What are some city’s you’ve played in in the last year or so. What have been some of the most memorable shows?

In November 2013, we went on a live recording tour in Texas and Oklahoma with Raina Rose and Rebecca Loebe. We recorded three nights at the Mucky Duck in Houston, the Cactus Cafe in Austin, and the Blue Door in Oklahoma City. We got a really cool live record out of those three shows. It was an intense process. We had two long days of rehearsal in Austin and then three gigs straight. It was a wonderful and invigorating experience.


We also had a nice run of shows with our good friends Elephant Revival. It was great to get in front of their fans with our new duo. Everyone was very gracious. Bridget Law (fiddle) and I finally got a play the song we wrote together on stage. It was pretty great jamming with those folks.

We had a great tour to Virginia and West Virginia this past July. The Purple Fiddle in Thomas, West Virginia is always a highlight. It is the tiny old coal town. This guy John has turned an old general store into a music venue with a hostel next door.

It is a tiny, old coal town tucked away in the mountains. It was 55 degrees at night in the middle of July. Going to Thomas is always like taking a trip out of time.

We also played the Red Wing Roots Music Festival Mt. Solon, Virginia. This is a great new fest hosted by our friends The Steel Wheels. This year was their second year. It was great to see other artists out there starting and building a successful festival. We were delighted to be a part of it.

We heard you guys will be playing with some of the guys from John Fullbright’s band at Fayetteville Roots Festival this year. Any truth to those rumors?

It is true. Our long time collaborator on keys, Daniel Walker, has been playing with Fullbright on some of his bigger gigs. He did Bonnaroo with Fullbright in 2013 and is getting ready to do Letterman with him in a couple of weeks. There is this great scene of Okie musician who all kind of know each other and play together when they get the chance. I feel my Okie roots coming out when I get around those guys.

In fact, we met Daniel on a gig at the Blue Door in OKC in 2010 – he sat in on our set that night.

So we were brainstorming with Daniel about recording our studio album for Smokey & the Mirror and we decided we wanted to bring in a drummer. He suggested John Carnuccio.

John (aka Nooch) spent the last few years touring with Fullbright. He was with the band at the Fayetteville Roots Festival in 2012 and 2013. He also used to play with the Turnpike Trubadoors.

Nooch and Daniel also play together in a great Norman band, Mama Sweet. So we were all lined up to make the record with the four of us. We were back at the Blue Door in June about a week before we were set to start recording in Norman. We were testing out some of our new tunes with a live audience.

Smokey & The Mirror - photo by Dylan Duvall

Greg Johnson, that runs the Blue Door, knows his stuff. He knows good songs. He will tell it like it is. After the gig he said he loved everything we were doing but that we were missing one element, one note. He literally pulled his phone out of his pocket and called Terry “Buffalo” Ware and asked him to join the session. Terry said yes. Bernice and I were floored. Terry got his start playing with Ray Wylie Hubbard back in the 70′s. Truth be told he has played with just about everyone. He has been a mainstay on tour and on records with Fullbright for the last five years. He is one of the most tasteful guitar players I have every heard.

When we got to the studio Bernice looked around and realized she was standing in an Oklahoma studio surrounded by all Okies. We just went in and knocked out the record in a couple of days. It was all very spontaneous. One or two takes max. We recorded to tape – real old school. It was an exhilarating experience. At the end of the session we talked about doing some gigs with that configuration. We asked them to come play Roots with us. Long story short, Terry and Daniel are going to join us at the festival. It should be a lot of fun.

Tell us a little more about the new record.

What can we say? We are super excited about it. We feel like it is some of our best work yet. It is electric. Drums. It sounds like a record that could have been made in 1974, but it also sounds fresh.

We are finished with the record, but are going to give it space and probably release it around the first of the year. It’s at this point where we feel like the process of making the record and the act of preserving the songs is the fulfillment. It is hard to say what folks will think about it. We like it. It feels good to know that is enough at this point.

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Dustin Bartholomew is the co-founder of Fayetteville Flyer, an online publication covering all things news, art and life in Fayetteville, Arkansas since 2007. A graduate of the Department of English at the University of Arkansas and a lifelong resident of the area, he still lives in east Fayetteville with his son Hudson, daughter Evelyn, his wife Brandy, and his two dogs Lily and Steve. On occasion, he tickles the ivories in a local band called The Good Fear.

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