Laurel native Devin Smith will be taking the stage July 6 with some heavy-hitting company at the 25th Essence Festival in New Orleans.
A keyboard player with singer-songwriter ALX (aka Aaron Gregory) and also a drummer, Smith, 20, is appearing in a festival featuring performances by Missy Elliot, Mary J. Blige and Pharrell Williams. The festival headliner is former first lady Michelle Obama.
“I haven’t done anything at this level before,” said Smith, who graduated from Atholton High School in 2016. “I’ve only been doing this for a year and a half to two years. It is something I enjoy a lot.”
As a student at Berklee Popular Music Institute in Boston, Smith has been immersed in music programing, production and recording.
He met ALX, another Berklee student, when the two performed together as part of the school’s Bruno Mars Ensemble, a tribute band.
“I knew I wanted [Smith] to be in the band for Essence,” Gregory said. “Being in the Bruno Mars ensemble, I gained an appreciation for his musical talents. Being a drummer and a keyboard player says a lot.”
While Smith will be playing for AXL’s show, he also has the role of music director.
“I am responsible for arranging all of the parts that go into the show,” Smith said. “Which songs are best for the show’s timeline and what will be the order of songs.”
“He has really helped me bring my vision to life,” Gregory said. “We’ve been putting in a lot of time, taking 15 hours a week for rehearsal since the end of May.”
From a young age, Smith has loved music.
“My parents told me I wanted to watch DVD concerts over cartoons,” he said.
At Atholton, Smith performed in the school’s symphonic and marching bands. He currently performs with a wedding band on weekends that travels throughout New England.
“I do all genres,” Smith said. “ALX is mostly R&B and pop. I hope to do more country and rock, to have that repertoire.”
When he completes his final semester at Berklee this August, Smith plans to eventually move to Los Angeles to continue in the music business backstage, arranging shows and working on the tech crew.