Pictured above: Members of Sofie and the New Relics include Grady Martin, from left, Wyatt Perry, Sofie Smithson and Jude Brown.


For anyone who finds themselves wondering whether or not the younger generations still appreciate music from the good old days, rest assured: Greenbrier High School junior Sofie Smithson is carrying on the torch. As the lead singer of Sofie and the New Relics, a band with a name to suit their sound, she might be coming soon to an event near you to play classic country tunes from the ‘60s and ‘70s.


Many musicians have had a passion for music from their earliest days. This was not quite the case for Smithson, but she joined the scene with more than enough dedication to make up for any delay.


“When I was around age 12, we took a family trip to Nashville, [Tenn.],” Smithson said. “I wasn’t really into music at the time. On the last day of the trip, we went to a wax museum, and one of the wax figures was Patsy Cline. Playing in the background was her song ‘Crazy.’  Then on the way home back from Nashville, I started looking her up. The first song that I listened to from her, it clicked.


“I really fell in love with that style and era of country music, and that’s what inspired me and got me into music. I think it just sounds so authentic and unique, the lyrics that they use are so pure. It was very different from whatever I’d heard before in country music and the typical stuff you hear on the radio.”


At 13, Smithson began to teach herself guitar by looking up chords on the internet. In 2022, she joined Jettway Performance, a music lesson and performance studio owned and founded by four-time Arkansas Country Music Award winner Zac Dunlap with locations in Bryant, Cabot and Greenbrier.


“Jettway was started in 2017,” Dunlap said. “I named it after my oldest son, Bryley Jett. I’d been with my band for over a decade and always wanted a way to work with kids and give them an avenue to get into the industry. My partner Matt Cody and I opened the business and started in a little bitty studio in eastern Arkansas, and we’ve grown now all over central Arkansas with students from multiple states coming here. It’s been quite the ride.”


Once a week, Smithson goes to Jettway for guitar and voice lessons. In addition to guitar, Smithson has learned to play the mandolin and taught herself to play the harmonica with the assistance of her vocal teacher at Jettway, Ellen Wiles. In December, Smithson was named Jettway’s 2023 Female Vocalist of the Year.


“I get to direct what I want to work with, and the instructors are just so amazing,” Smithson said. “They know so much, and it’s a great learning experience and a great community.”


Jettway does more than just teach students to sing and play instruments; every year, it takes students on a summer tour where they have the opportunity to perform in front of live audiences. Students come from all across Arkansas and surrounding states to audition the January before and, if selected, spend the winter and spring months forming bands, developing setlists and rehearsing for their first real performances at venues ranging from midsize to legendary. Auditions for 2024 will be held Jan. 14 and 15.


Smithson became the lead singer for a band of students her age dubbed Delta Blue, which began the tour by performing at festivals around Arkansas before traveling out of state to places such as Hard Rock Cafe and Bowie’s in Nashville, Elitch Gardens Theme & Water Park in Denver, and in Tulsa, Okla.


“My favorite performance was when we went to Gulf Shores, [Ala.], at the Hangout,” Smithson said. “I had never been, and it’s a very cool atmosphere. I usually play with my guitar, and that’s kind of my comfort zone, but when I went up there, I did not play guitar for the majority of the songs, which was very different for me. It was a lot of fun being able to go up to the crowd and interact with them. That was just such a cool experience.”


“Sofie represents all of the great things about Jettway,” Dunlap said. “She works hard, she’s eager to learn, and she’s got a great attitude. She’s obviously extremely talented musically, as well. She’s got a really unique sound; I’ve been in the industry for over 16 years, and I’m always very drawn to things that are different and unique. She definitely checks all of those boxes.”


Delta Blue was brought together by Jettway for the sake of the summer tour, and dissolved when the tour came to an end. In August, Smithson brought together a new band called Sofie and the New Relics. Though all of the members are Jettway students, the band is independent from the school. The New Relics have already started to make a name for themselves, performing at festivals in Heber Springs, Conway and Mountain View.

Smithson first began performing in Jettway’s 2023 Summer Tour. Today, she and her band book and perform their own shows.

“Sofie and the New Relics is kind of a two-for-one band,” Smithson said. “We start out as a full band, so we have the drums, electric bass, electric guitar. Then halfway through our set, we totally strip it down and go to what we call a small band. My drummer, Jude Brown, goes to the upright bass. My electric bass player, Grady Martin, goes to the snare, and my electric guitar player, Wyatt Perry, goes to the resonator. It becomes this kind of folky bluegrass, and it’s a very cool sound that you don’t see very often. We’ve had a lot of fun experimenting with that sound because we’ve never really worked with it before.”


Sofie and the New Relics have a set list composed of a variety of bluegrass, folk, country and rock ‘n’ roll, with Smithson’s personal favorites, including Patsy Cline’s “Crazy,” Glen Campbell’s “Gentle on My Mind” and Alison Kraus’ “Oh, Atlanta.”


The future promises new performances by Sofie and the New Relics, as well as the possibility of original songs. Though Smithson is still new to songwriting, the process of composing and practicing original music with her band has been a great learning experience and crucial to helping her find and develop her own personal sound. As a  high school junior, she still has a ways to go before choosing a college, but she hopes to find one somewhere in the Nashville area to be in the heart of the country music scene.


“The other students in her band have all been with us for years and have been on multiple tours with us,” Dunlap said. “They are exceptional young musicians who have an incredible work ethic. Those guys are at the studio three, four, five nights a week sometimes. They put the time in, they’re exceptionally talented, they have great attitudes, and that’s probably the biggest reason that all four of them work together so well. They’re all just very creatively in tune with each other.”


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