Stephanie Smith will be on the main stage at the Ichthus Festival twice, but before that, she’ll be in Lexington joining festival goers who get into town early to work on a mission project organized by the festival and several Central Kentucky ministries and churches.
“One of my goals in this music-band-rockstar thing is not just to stand on the stage and show people that I like to sing,” Smith says. “I really have a heart to better the community and serve and love people at their point of need. This is an opportunity to do that and to get to know the community.”
Smith’s desire to serve is, in large part, due to the failure of her first attempt at a recording career.
“I went to college to pursue music and pursue the rock-star thing,” Smith says.
It went well, and it went to her head. Her wake up call came in a comment from her mother who told her at 18, “I don’t care if this is all taken away from you, because I don’t like who you’ve become.”
Smith ended up going on a soul-searching journey that included a trip to Guatemala, where she found herself carrying cinder blocks up a muddy hill to help people build sinks in their kitchens, and to Africa where, for two weeks, she lived on $1 a day.
“It gave me real insight into the world outside of America,” Smith says.
“That opened my eyes to the real needs of our country. You don’t have to go overseas . . . I’ve seen real need, and to not do something about it, you’d have to be a real ignorant person.”
In the states, Smith has gotten involved in Soles for Souls, a group that collects used shoes for needy people, and the Chocolate Factory, which helps people stage chocolate tastings as charitable fund raisers.
And, of course, she’s playing music again.
When it comes to her music, Smith realized that she didn’t need to leave the stage so much as she needed to be playing for the right reasons.
When she started playing again, things started going her way. At a battle of the bands, she ended up playing as a space filler for a band that was stuck in traffic, and she won the battle.
That earned her a gig at a festival that was being headlined by TobyMac, who’s also headlining the Friday Ichthus lineup. The former dc talk member rolled in just in time to see Smith’s set and talked to her afterwards. Part of his advice to Smith, who was still in college, was not to take the first recording contract offer she got. Then he ended up making that first offer a few months later when Smith sent a song into TobyMac’s record label, Gotee.
"I said, 'I don't know which you to listen to,'" Smith said, recalling that conversation.
Smith ended up waiting until after graduation to sign with Gotee. The label released her first album, Not Afraid, in April. So now, she’s up on the stage, and she wants to come down and connect with fans.
“I’m not on a stage where bodyguards tell them they can’t touch me,” Smith says. “I’m getting my hands dirty with them.”