Ken Smithers, a Cass County resident, owns and operates Picture This Video, Inc. in Belton—but that’s just his day job.
On the side, Smithers likes to emphasize and support local happenings. For instance, when the Belton water tower was recently painted to feature “Home of Tate Stevens” and “Live the dream!” on its side, Smithers set up a camera atop Beacon Mini Storage and recorded a 36-hour time lapse of the remodel.
He also films the guest speakers at the Cass County business networking meetings every month and uploads them to his Vimeo channel (vimeo.com/kensmithers), allowing their thoughts and ideas to be heard by more people. Smithers is also known for filming local Chamber of Commerce meetings and broadcasting his “Obvious Weather Report,” both of which are also available online.
A recent endeavor begun by this local cameraman is something called the “Artist’s Couch.” This program is intended to reveal local musical talent by letting viewers hear directly from the artist, who answers submitted questions and plays music samples.
Smithers says that the Artist’s Couch “was created to help promote these amazing artists who need to reach the right people or person.”
The concept behind an online video channel is that any one person’s share of the video might get the local artists seen by the right people to jumpstart their careers.
For his first installment of the Artist’s Couch, Smithers interviewed Noe Palma, a singer and songwriter who also works full-time for the Kansas City Fire Department. Palma and his band tour all around Kansas and Missouri, providing a great local flavor of country music.
On Tuesday, May 14, Smithers welcomed Phil Vandel, a country artist who has played with Tate Stevens in the past, as the next featured artist. Vandel lives in St. Joseph, MO, and sees it as the perfect town for his personality.
“I left St. Joe for awhile and I found myself longing for what I came from,” he said.
Growing up, being raised primarily by his grandparents at an early age, Vandel remembered listening to what he calls “traditional country.”
“We grew up with Roy Acuff and Ernest Tubb—Ernest Tubb was the first thing I ever learned how to play on the guitar,” said Vandel. “It was definitely a great era to learn from.”
Vandel’s music, though modern, still encompasses some of the more classical country and western vibes that have defined the Midwest for years. And not only does he emulate a traditional sound, but he also embodies patriotic values.
“I got so passionate about the military…that I kind of lost focus of the mainstream goal of record deals,” he said.
A few years ago, Vandel was invited to Texas to perform at a benefit concert for the Wounded Warriors. The opportunity was seen at first as nothing more than a way to make money, but when Vandel saw the soldiers in their wheelchairs and with their disabilities, his entire outlook changed.
“Something in me changed. That moment was a defining moment for me,” he said. “My talent and my God-given ability to do what I do had a greater purpose than me playing for drunks and honkey tonk gals…I chose at that moment that I was going to get involved in that—one way or another.”
Since then, Vandel has flown to Iraq multiple times on tour with American Airlines, providing shows for the deployed soldiers.
Interestingly, the talent that entertains and provides a sense of comfort for those overseas is the same talent that helped Vandel through his own hard times. His father was killed when he was a just a year old, his grandfather died when he was fourteen, and he lost one of his best friends to an accidental shooting at the same age.
“That guitar saved my life,” Vandel said. “I believe with all my heart I would have killed myself if it weren’t for that…Through that tragedy, I grew.”
He never went to a dance growing up, but instead stayed home and played guitar for eight hours a day. The six-string was his therapy and helped him to see the value in music as he dealt with great loss. He explained that he would just let himself get “lost in music.”
Now Vandel is looking to refocus and find his niche in the music scene while making a name for himself. He continues playing at local venues in and around Kansas City as he writes new songs.
People like Ken Smithers and Phil Vandel, who do so much for other people, bring an optimistic perspective to the local scene. And they’re making a difference.