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The record was recorded at the local Weights and Measures Soundlab. As its title suggests, Like It's June is an easy, windows-rolled-down collection. Yet it's also surprisingly mature, with a sound somewhere between the sunny catchiness of Jack Johnson and the rawness of Jake Bugg. And that's what Leimer wanted.
"Before this program [the Grammy Music Revolution], I was just a guy writing acoustic songs in my room," Leimer says. "But I love doing this. I feel like I've been doing it forever."
Leimer is one of FAI's youngest conference performers, but he has ready opinions about folk, rattling off a long list of artists he says fit the category. On his short honor roll: Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young; John Mayer; and local Americana band She's a Keeper. The common denominator for him is the songwriting itself.
"I'm primarily a songwriter, so I really get into that," he says. "The lyrics are really important to me. It's natural. That's what I like about it. You have a memory of that particular moment in time, and you can play it back for your kids 30 years later. It kind of becomes a little bit of history."
Connor Leimer plays at 9:20 p.m. Wednesday, February 19, on the Roanoke Stage.
Two hours southwest of KC, in Chanute, Kansas, singer-songwriter Sky Smeed makes his home in an old train depot he restored. That is, when he's not on the road — which is often.
"When I was 19, I moved out to Massachusetts, and that's when I started writing songs," he says. "But I really wanted a place I could create on my own and have a home base to start playing music full time. It made sense to center myself."
To get there, he returned to his hometown. Now 31, Smeed has been back in Chanute for six years, and his most recent album, 2012's Mill River, feels like a testament to his roots. Having given himself plenty of time and space, on the beautiful, expressive Mill River, to finesse his songwriting, he sounds like he has finally figured it out. The record's 13 tracks stretch out like a cat in the sun, unhurried and easy to like.
"It's just me playing in my friend's barn, which he converted into a studio, about 20 minutes away from me, in rural Kansas," he says. "That's where I recorded. I just sat down and played like it was any other show, like if I was in your living room."
Mill River sounds more like Smeed falling into your living room after a long stretch of gigs, kicking off his boots and merrily raising a glass to you before telling you all the lessons he learned on the road. That's how the record unfolds: one story after another, good times and bad. Because for Smeed, whose heroes include Gram Parsons and Guy Clark, the story is the thing.
"Maybe because I've always heard those kinds of songs," Smeed says. "I grew up with that kind of stuff. They feel like they're part of my life."
For Smeed, folk is the breadcrumb trail you follow from those stories back to their origins: "When I think of folk music, I immediately think of somebody with a guitar and a voice, you know?
"But that's not what it is anymore," he adds. "I can hear those songs through the years, like anybody, I guess. A line can take me back to a certain place in time. Everything just crosses lines. I don't mind that."
Sky Smeed plays at 10:20 p.m. Wednesday, February 19, on the Roanoke Stage.