Andrew and Zachari Smith Bring Tunes Home

By Lyndsay Thornton

Acclaimed folk duo, Andrew and Zachari Smith, will be playing at Kelowna’s Minstrel Café on February 23rd and 24th. I had the opportunity to see them live at the Bean Scene in Vernon earlier this month, when they filled the house with their laid-back tunes.

On a chilly winter night in Vernon, upstairs at the Bean Scene music-lovers sip steaming lattes, while Andrew and Zachari Smith tune guitars in front of the floor-to-ceiling windows. Andrew chats casually with the audience, seated in a horseshow around the mics in an assortment of vintage armchairs. Zachari shyly introduces the acclaimed folk duo simply as Zach and “my dad,” immediately drawing the audience into an intimate family dynamic. They have been touring Europe and Canada together since 2009, and in 2011, they released their first duo record, Travelling, which they recorded and produced themselves at their Kelowna studio.


The two start off the set with a vibey instrumental piece, Andrew playing acoustic guitar and foot-tapping a stompbox, while Zachari masters lap steel on his Dobro. Everyone settles into the laid-back rhythm; it feels as though we’ve been invited right into the living room of these seasoned musicians. Indeed, it is a bit of a homecoming for Andrew, having grown-up and gone to school in Vernon. Zachari takes a seat at the minimalist drum kit–with a vintage suitcase for a kick–and livens things up with the title track from Travelling, which he wrote while on the road. The sound is distinctly bluegrass, but with Andrew nimbly plucking the mandolin, it is equally polished and refined. The duo breeze through a handful of songs from Travelling, the audience keeping time with their feet and closing their eyes to the nostalgic ballad “Ancestors.” Although Zachari claims his favorite songwriter is Mason Jennings, he declares that they will only be covering songs by Canadian musicians (to a murmuring of appreciation). With that notion, they break into Robbie Robertson’s “The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down.” Andrew, on the harmonica, invites the audience to fill in the na na na’s, which they do with enthusiasm; he grins and proclaims, “We’ve got some good singers here!” With a throwback to early-Dylan-esque political sentiments, Zachari explains that he wrote the next song after watching The End of the Line, a documentary exposing Mitsubishi’s fishing of Bluefin Tuna to extinction. Andrew picks up the banjo for this one, his three-finger picking lending the song a markedly country twang. Andrew puts his whole guitar to use on many of their songs, treating everyone to exceptional “tap guitar” playing. The instrumental “Africa Tap” obviously hails from his time spent in Africa, and with Zachari hitting a single bongo attached to the drum kit, the sound is satisfyingly eclectic and bohemian.


While the duo tune their guitars between songs, Andrew tells stories about his family, which somehow always impact the next song without sounding like an introduction at all.  He reminisces about Zachari being the first of his kids to “leave the nest,” and when they play the bittersweet “Rite of Passage” (a song from one of Andrew’s solo projects), a few napkins get dabbed around eyes. 9pm arrives much too soon, with everyone begging for one more song. Andrew asks the staff if they mind staying late and they agree without hesitation. The duo finish off the evening with a cover of a song called “I Like The Way It Feels,” a little gem from the repertoire of fellow folk musician, John Smith. As Zach slides the steel down the strings of his Dobro and Andrew croons like James Taylor, everyone likes “the way it feels.”

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