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Remembering Jay Smith

Jay Smith

Jay Smith. Kayla MacLellan photo.

Preview – Jay Smith: A Benefit for the Unison Benevolent Fund

– by Elizabeth Lu

Musicians from across Canada are coming together to celebrate the life of Jay Smith.

The guitarist and songwriter, originally from Cape Breton, Nova Scotia, is perhaps best known as a member of Matt Mays and El Torpedo. Before joining the band, Smith fronted Rock Ranger, a trio that played around the East Coast. He also released a self-titled album in 2010.

On March 27, 2013, while touring in with Mays, Smith took his own life after a show in Edmonton.

After his death, two benefit shows were held in Halifax and Sydney (in Cape Breton) to raise money for a trust fund dedicated to his two young children. The shows raised over $200,000.

On Wednesday, April 1, fans, friends, and family will gather at the Imperial in Vancouver to raise funds and raise awareness around mental health issues. The concert’s proceeds will go to the Unison Benevolent Fund, a charity that offers “counselling and emergency relief services” to artists in the music industry.

Throughout his career, Smith connected with different artists and fans across Canada, including Vancouver’s Dustin Bentall.

“You know,” Bentall said, “Jay just had this effect on everybody that he met. They suddenly felt like they were his best friend.”

Sing It Forward 2014

Dustin Bentall and Kendel Carson at the Vogue Theatre, Jan 9 2014. Christopher Edmonstone photo.

Fellow performers at the fundraiser include Mays, Adam Baldwin, and the Odds, all of whom had some personal connection with the musician. Several other artists, yet to be confirmed as of this writing, will perform at the concert.

Bentall also mentioned that organizers have something special in store for the show, but remained cryptic about details.

Smith was one of many musicians who have experienced mental health problems, including Matthew Good and Steven Page (former frontman of Barenaked Ladies), who have both admitted to struggling with depression.

“It’s a really hard business,” said Bentall. “You have to kind of dedicate everything to it and for a long time, potentially with no return. I’ve spent ten years on the road and making these records but it’s like you have to spend everything you make to keep it going.”

Despite the long hours, little sleep, and the frequently small profits, Bentall still insists the rewards are incredible. He believes a large part of overcoming these obstacles is knowing where to turn to for help.

“This situation can be avoided. There’s light at the end of the darkness, there’s a way out. People get too caught in that and they get into this mental cycle where they just feel like there’s no way out and they don’t reach out and nobody can help them. If there is no help, it can tip them over the edge. And it’s just something that we all wanna see never happen again.”

Bentall’s goal is to sell out the concert, to the Imperial’s 600-person capacity. Tickets are on sale at ticketweb.ca, at Zulu, Red Cat, and Highlife record stores, or personally through Bentall - he carries them everywhere, just in case.

Whether you knew Jay Smith or not, come pay homage to a fallen artist and friend. There are many more who may need your support.

Listen to Jay Smith’s music at jaysmith.bandcamp.com.

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