For Dallas native Granger Smith, 2017 is already proving to be a bang-up year as his current single, "If the Boot Fits" is racing up the charts. But it was different sort of smash hit that abruptly ended his breakthrough 2016, the year that saw Smith achieve his first No. 1 single with "Backroad Song."
In December while performing, he took a violent fall off the stage in New Jersey, resulting in broken ribs, a punctured and partially collapsed lung and a doctor's order to sit still for several weeks, something the hard-hustling Smith hadn't done in many years.
"As strange as it sounds, it couldn't have come at a better time," Smith says over the phone from a tour stop in Buffalo, New York. "I was forced to be stationary for a long time, but being home meant I got to know my 8-month old baby better than I knew my other two kids at the same age."
It's important to note that Smith is the latest in a relatively short line of recent Texas-based country artists to hit it big on a national level. He's unlike Maren Morris or Kacey Musgraves, who both left Texas to find fame.
Smith, his band and his viral sensation redneck alter-ego Earl Dibbles Jr. have aimed to build momentum by being featured on some of the biggest tours in country music.
Last year, shows with Luke Bryan and Florida Georgia Line put Granger Smith in front of a new type of concert crowd.
"In 2016, we had come off of two years of playing 800-seat places that were packed almost every night with people up against the stage," he explains. "But we had to learn how to play to people who were talking on their phones, still walking into the venue and who hadn't heard of us before. There might have been 8,000 people in the crowd, but some needed binoculars to see us on the stage. Every night, as a band, we would huddle before the show and remind ourselves that we needed to give everyone there our best show and to make memories for them."
Even years ago when Smith was playing to sparse crowds on the Texas country circuit, he displayed the strategic knack for marketing and messaging needed to appeal to the masses. His catalog of glossy, radio-friendly tunes found an audience in Texas college towns that appreciated a palatable bit of local flavor that didn't go overboard with gritty renegade posturing.
Because of those injuries last December, Smith had to cancel his appearance at the 10 Man Jam at Billy Bob's Texas the following week. It would've been the first time he played in Dallas-Fort Worth following the uproar surrounding his July comments equating the Texas country circuit to "the minor leagues" -- which weren't as incendiary as they sounded in neat little 140-character bites.
The ensuing social media back and forth between offended parties and those defending Smith as being misunderstood and well-meaning indirectly highlighted the stylistic differences in that lie in the Texas country scene. There's slick and poppy, there's raw and rocking, and there's a ton in between. But that's not what Smith is interested in when it comes to how he spends his mental energy.
"I feel like every day is a blessing to be doing what I love," Smith says. "I'm thankful to the band that's been with me since the broken-down van days, and here we are in two buses with a sold-out show in Buffalo tonight."
"I don't know what will happen tomorrow, but today, I'm living my dreams, so to indulge the negativity towards me for doing what I love is ludicrous."
Smith's Feb. 18 show at the famous Billy Bob's Texas is his first time he'll play to a hometown crowd as his star is so rapidly rising.
With mended bones and a busy 2017 schedule, which includes opening for Luke Bryan during the summer, Smith isn't looking past how cool it will be to be the star of the show in the iconic honky tonk.
"It is different to play there, no doubt," Smith says. "There's a special energy around that building and every show, no matter who might be playing feels like a special night there. For people east of the Mississippi, the Grand Ole Opry is a Mecca, but for me, you know you've made it when you play Billy Bob's."
Granger Smith featuring Earl Dibbles Jr. performs on Saturday at 10:30 p.m. at Billy Bob's Texas, 2520 Rodeo Plaza, Fort Worth. Details here.