The new Smoot’s: Owners look to make lounge a destination for locals, tourists

Published 12:05 am Sunday, February 11, 2018


NATCHEZ — Since a new influx of ownership took over Smoot’s Grocery near the end of 2017, the site has gradually worked toward becoming a premier music venue for the entire South.

Manager Matt Willis said he came on board around the same time that owners Chris Payken, Chip Pickett and Holly Van Heemst acquired the Broadway Street blues lounge, and Smoot’s has aimed for more consistency and continued growth ever since.

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“The way I see it is I want Smoot’s to be a music destination where people come to Natchez to hear acts,” Willis said. “I want this to be on the level of Ground Zero (Blues Club in Clarksdale) and Tipitina’s in New Orleans.”

Willis said the group has changed the atmosphere of Smoot’s with the goal of striking a balance between emphasizing music while also being inclusive and multi-dimensional.

Part of this tact, Willis said, is that the business wants to avoid being a “listening room” where patrons just sit around and listen while maintaining its reputation as a music lounge.

Despite the word “blues” marking the Smoot’s sign hanging from the rustic building, Willis, who books all the performances, said he is open to bands of multiple genres.

“Just any American, roots-based music,” he said.

Willis also said the interior has been reworked a bit, with some of the couches being replaced with flattop tables to give the establishment a bit of a different aura.

Smoot’s has plans for both the immediate and long-term future. In the coming weeks, Willis expects Smoot’s to obtain its liquor license, which will allow the lounge to expand the beer only beverage menu to a greater variety of offerings.

Willis also said the blues lounge is planning to purchase and implement a “world-class” PA system,” to enhance on-stage performances.

While Willis said the establishment already attracts some of the best local musicians around, he also said all Smoot’s ambitions would hopefully culminate with becoming a gathering place for musicians from all over.

“We want to catch a lot of those touring acts and get some new music into Natchez,” Willis said.

Willis said Smoot’s has some events he is excited coming up, such as the Barks, Blues and Brews event Sunday, March 11, which will benefit the Natchez-Adams County Humane Society.

Now that football has ended, Smoot’s New Orleans Saints watch party’s will be replaced by a “Sunday jam,” at which local musicians will perform and food such as gumbo and jambalaya is served for free.

Another concept Willis hopes to accomplish would be in conjunction with the Natchez Brewery, which sits just blocks away. Willis said they had even discussed the possibility of roping off the surrounding area and holding a block party of sorts.

Willis encouraged those interested to visit the Smoot’s Grocery Facebook page for more information on upcoming events.