I was just arriving at Camp Nashville at the Kerrville Folk Festival, I think it was two years ago. Might be three. I settled in a little and bumped into one of my favorite bards and all around humans, Tom Kimmel. He looked like he had something on his mind. "Got a minute?" he said. "Something I wanna play for ya. Let's take a ride, go get some water for the camp."
It was pretty damn hot all right, shade is a precious commodity in the hill country. But we had the windows up and the AC cool but quiet, all the better to hear this something with, apparently. "Friend of mine just turned me on to this chick, wanted me to write with her, maybe " He knew he had my undivided attention now. "But you tell me, man--is this as good as I think it is?"
We rolled through a couple three tunes in silence, I remember "Come to Jesus" and "Raggedy Ann," something else. I was probably biting down on my left index finger, the way I am now recalling that day, right hand under the left arm, with my head down. He pulled up to the water place, stopped the car and looked at me. "Holy shit," I remember saying, "Yeah, I think it is."
The melodies, and the eerie way they were sung, part wild child and part recluse, hooked me. The lyrics were original and very strong, sounded unmistakably like the new somebody, too good to have never been heard of before. But that's just how it happens, something incubates in some faraway town, and descends on the scene, someone you've never seen starts to play their guitar, they open their mouth and blow your mind. It's beautiful.
"Mindy Smith," he said, anticipating my question. "She's gonna be staying with us here, she arrives today in the early afternoon. Kind of a city chick, think the camping thing has got her a little freaked out. I think somebody told her about the chiggers " and he flashed that devilish grin of his, raised his eyebrows. "Anyhow, we should try to make her feel at home, you know. She's gonna play the New Folk competition, stay a couple of days."
Turned out she was coming down with Gaerd Mueller, a casual friend who was into various musical angles, publishing principally. He was looking after her, buffering and bolstering, opening some doors. Seemed to have some professional-looking photo equipment when they arrived a little later. She had the fish out of water thing going on, so I did my version of the Welcome Wagon.
Wonder of wonders, she was not selected one of the six (!) winners of New Folk that year. But many people with better ears did hear her wondrous gifts, as we did around the campfire those nights. Back home, Mindy and I stayed friends, and we had her come play at a couple of our Puremusic.com In the Round shows. People still bring up the night that a visiting songwriter decided to play the egg shaker very badly over one of her songs. He somehow failed to see her looks of death that were cracking up the people in the front, and at a certain point she just stopped and put the guitar in its stand. Didn't make a big deal about it, but was not about to have her song compromised. She's got a very strong vision about what she's doing.
In a town where this is very difficult, Mindy built a following of people who loved her songs, and got a buzz going. Eventually that buzz reached the ears of Steve Buckingham, who signed her to a deal with Vanguard Records. She was also chosen to sing "Jolene," the single for the Dolly Parton tribute CD Just Because I'm a Woman. That got her all over CMT and GAC, the country music video channels.
The record release is tonight, I think. Hope I can get this issue done and go. Since the moment I heard her, I thought she was going to do something big, and now it's all starting to happen continue to interview