March 28, 1958-January 16, 2023
Man of Music and Builder of Communities
Gary Smith was set on his life’s path during a matinee showing of “The Sound of Music” at the Starcase Cinema in Middletown, RI. He was seven years old. “I learned that music could beat Nazis. That’s when I knew,” Gary said several weeks before his death, at age 64, at his home in Walpole, NH.
Music, art, beauty, and community as bulwarks against the darker forces of the world and the human condition – this was the indelible thread that ran through Gary’s life.
Born to the late Michael and Marie Pinto Smith in Newport, RI, Gary honed his musical chops in high school rock bands and sharpened his fine mind as a student of philosophy at Colby College, where he built his first recording studio, a pair of four-track machines set up in a glorified broom closet.
Following his Wanderjahre in France, Gary moved to Boston, MA, determined to work for the celebrated architect Moshe Safdie, whose ideals of timelessness, connection to nature, and creating meaningful spaces for community resonated deeply. Gary arrived at Safdie’s Faneuil Hall office each morning for weeks until the office manager finally hired him to run errands.
Walking the streets, absorbing the rhythms of the city, he wrote songs in his head. Before long, he formed the band Lifeboat, which toured the country and received accolades in the national press.
While Gary was an accomplished guitarist and songwriter, he found his calling outside the spotlight at Fort Apache, a scrappy recording studio that he built into a clubhouse for young musicians and a global force in alternative rock. Gary’s ears were impeccable. His work ethic, matchless. His deal-making was the stuff of major-label dreams. As a producer and manager, Gary shepherded the careers of some of the era’s most influential artists, among them Pixies, Throwing Muses, Tanya Donelly, Juliana Hatfield, and Natalie Merchant. But his impact transcended the realm of records and contracts. Gary brought people together, cultivating a sense of family that sustained him and the many outsiders, misfits, and dreamers fortunate enough to travel in his orbit.
In 2001, Gary moved into an antique farmhouse at the end of a country road in New Hampshire. Inspired by a profound affinity with the Shakers – their dedication to hard work and craftsmanship, their embrace of song as a spiritual gift – he filled his home with simple, sturdy furniture and musical instruments. He built a swimming pond, planted a garden, and lovingly tended his sheep and donkey. The farm was heaven. For Gary, a near-constant stream of friends and musicians, who often stayed for days, made the place yet more heavenly. Whether entertaining a field full of revelers or laying a perfect table for an intimate meal, Gary was the consummate host. His parties were nothing short of legendary.
Leaving the fast-paced city life slowed neither the flow of Gary’s ideas nor his boundless energy for making things happen. He relocated Fort Apache from Massachusetts to Bellows Falls, VT, just across the border from his new home in Walpole, opening the recording studio and a new live performance venue in the former Hotel Windham. Over the next two decades Gary’s local imprint grew. He was a founder of WOOL-FM, a community radio station, launched a regional events magazine, and with investment support from friends near and far he opened Popolo, an Italian-inspired, farm-to-table restaurant.
When Gary received a cancer diagnosis in September of 2022, his chief concern was how to get done everything he wanted to accomplish. The list, as ever, was long. He worked, quite literally, to his dying day. Gary leaves behind a hole that cannot be filled. But his vision and integrity, prodigious intelligence and marvelous sense of humor, his steadfast care for people and community will continue to inspire the legion of comrades mourning the loss of our dear friend.
According to his wishes, Gary’s body was cremated and there will be no funeral service. Plans are being made for a gathering to celebrate his life.
In lieu of flowers, donations can be made to WOOL-FM, http://blacksheepradio.org/WOOL/support/donate/.