jack owens Conner Smith
Born and raised amongst the bright stars of Music City, Conner Smith has long known of the magic of the Grand Ole Opry.
"When I was about 6 years old, I went to the Grand Ole Opry with my family," remembers Smith, 22, during a recent interview with PEOPLE. "And when I came home, I wrote my first song."
It's this memory that makes the news that the rising singer-songwriter has been named as the latest addition to the Opry NextStage Class of 2022 even more special.
"It's just been a year of stepping into so many dreams," says Smith, who now serves as the sixth act to join the 2022 class that already includes Elvie Shane, Morgan Wade, BRELAND, Restless Road and Callista Clark. "Whether it's playing Red Rocks or starting our first tour or playing the Grand Ole Opry for the first time, these moments are all so special. This summer was one of the biggest growing seasons of my life."
jack owens "Take It Slow" Cover Art
Smith will now return to the Grand Ole Opry to make his NextStage artist debut on Tuesday, Oct. 25, serving as yet another highlight on a personal and professional timeline that began when he was just a 9-year-old kid getting signed to BMI as a writer.
"Up to this point, my Opry debut back in May was the best day of my life," admits Smith. "It was such an acceptance to me into this dream of playing country music by the genre's gatekeepers, the Grand Ole Opry."
Of course, Smith has learned that patience for such career milestones is indeed a virtue — somewhat like the patience he has shown his current single "Take It Slow," which was first released last year but continues to experience a rebirth of sorts, especially via the song's new acoustic version featuring country star Ryan Hurd.
"Some songs just stick around," says Smith of the song he wrote back in February of 2020 with Hurd and songwriter Mark Russell that now lives on his debut project Didn't Go Too Far. "When we went in the studio with it and Zach Crowell produced it, he just brought that thing to life in a way that I don't think a song ever has. Going from the demo to production, I've never seen a song just come to life as much as that one did."
Nevertheless, the creation of the song took place at a time when the world was in the middle of the chaos of the pandemic. Still, Smith and his team believed in it wholeheartedly, making the decision to not only release the tune, but also make it a pivotal piece of Smith's setlist over the summer as he was opening for Thomas Rhett. And night after night, Smith found that the audience simply couldn't get enough of the song.
"That was when everybody just looked at the song, believing that it deserved a chance at radio," he says of the song that has gone on to receive nearly 60 million streams.
Of course, when Hurd got word of that he was the first to raise his hand, simply to see if there was anything he could do to make it that much more special.
And there was.
"I went back into the studio with Ryan, and as soon as he started setting those harmonies and doing what he does, it just took us to that next level," recalls Smith. "A lot of acoustic songs are put out and they don't really do anything. But this one just really feels like it does pour some new life into this song. 'Take It Slow' sounds just as good live with my full band as it does with just me sitting there with an acoustic guitarist playing. It's just one of those songs."
The sonic magic of the song pairs beautifully with lyrics that also seemingly have a certain type of voodoo wrapped up within them.
"What I love about the song is that there's an intimacy," says Smith. "This song just paints a picture, which I think as songwriters we're always trying to do. I've always felt like the more specific you get, the more relatable it becomes and the more universal it becomes, in a weird way."
jack owens Conner Smith
And as Smith looks to his future within country music, he says he's doing his best to try to take it all in as much as he can — something he learned by watching artists such as Thomas Rhett.
"There's nobody better to learn from than him," he says of the artist he'll be out on the road with through the end of the month. "Having him close by and just be the voice of wisdom and truth in my life has been a really big deal. I can never take that for granted."
He draws in a deep breath.
"As artists, you're always looking for what's next. This year has been incredible in a lot of ways, and it's also been really challenging in a lot of ways," Smith explains. "I'm trying to just slow it down and not take anything for granted. My biggest goal is to play a role in the history of Nashville and the history of country music, while always paying respect to it."