Misner & Smith’s roots run deep

Sam Misner and Megan Smith first met acting in a production of “Woody Guthrie’s American Song” by Foothill Theater Company in Nevada City. He was playing a young version of the wandering minstrel activist and she a hapless migrant farmhand. When the cue came in rehearsal for them to sing a two-part harmony of “Grand Coulee Dam,” something magical happened.

Aug. 2 | 4:30 p.m.
Sugar Pine Point State Park | Tahoma

“I’ll never forget that a capella moment,” says Misner. “It was like: ‘Whoa, this is a unique vocal blend.’”

A live commercial spot for the musical on Nevada City’s KVMR community radio station confirmed it. The couple has since performed in the Guthrie musical around the country while holding a career as Shakespearean actors and slowly, steadily building a fan base for their mellifluous acoustic duo known only as Misner & Smith.

“That show instilled in both of us how music can bring hope and lift peoples’ spirits in a way few other artforms can do,” he says. “There’s an immediacy to music. Woody was bringing joy to people in the migrant camps. It’s the way you can play a show with people you’ve met before and connect with them.”

For Misner & Smith, the essence of music is storytelling.

“We’re channeling characters in songs, embodying the song, serving the song. It’s the same thing as an actor when we’re playing other characters. It’s not about me. It’s about how do I tell this story. I keep coming back to that,” he says.

Misner & Smith’s poignantly American roots run deep. Their last album, “headwaters,” released in 2017 offers moving versions of choice covers by Paul Simon, Gram Parsons, Neil Young, Patty Griffin, the Lovin’ Spoonful, the Talking Heads, The Band and Dr. Dog.

They are currently in the process of recording original material for a new album, which will be their sixth in 15 years of performing together.

“The songs we are recording right now are digging in a little deeper,” he says. “They feel even more present.”

The spare, yet sturdy duo will present some of their new compositions at their performance at Big BLUEgrass Benefit Concert at Sugar Pine Point State Park.

“There’s one called ‘Threadbare,’ ” says Misner. “It’s really coming from the perspective of talking to someone being worn down, feeling empty, racing against time. It’s sort of like: I’ve been there, too.”

Another sing is simply called “Anthem.”

“The basic idea when I was writing that song is of how an anthem has all these connotations — good or bad,” he says. “What if someone had an anthem just for themselves? An anthem to sing to encourage yourself.”

Along with Sonoma County party band One Grass Two Grass and the Go To Hell Man Clan, Misner & Smith will be donating their performance to benefit Sierra State Parks Foundation. Proceeds will help maintain and restore the historic Hellman-Ehrman Mansion.

“We wanted to be part of it because anytime we can give back to organizations preserving our country’s beautiful places, that’s worth our time,” says Misner.

Big BLUEgrass Benefit Concert will feature food by Big Blue Q, Exquisite Grill and Cheri’s Hand Dipped Ice Cream Bars, as well as wine and beer from Sierra Nevada Brewing and Alibi Ale Works. Outside food and beverage is not allowed at the concert.

Parking is limited and costs $10. There will be a free shuttle from the campground parking lot to the venue. Bring low-back chairs, warm clothing and blankets. Tickets are $20. | sierrastateparks.org