At 8 years old, Newport Beach native Samantha Smith learned the first song she sang in public in an American biker bar in France, but it was in her hometown that she got her start.
The 19-year-old aspiring songwriter — who sings, plays guitar and describes her current style as folksy rock — is home from college in upstate New York for two weeks and wasted no time arranging to play at Newport's Blue Beet twice this week.
"It's really fun to come back to Newport and play shows, because a lot of the people that come to my shows are my friends, so I get to see everybody again," she said. "There are a lot of people that come to the shows that I only see at my shows."
She played Wednesday and is opening for surf rock legend Dick Dale on Friday night at the Coach House — her fourth time playing at the San Juan Capistrano venue. Smith is performing a set featuring her new songs accompanied by a full band with Bart Broadnax on bass, Andre Rossignol on lead guitar and Mike Medeiros on drums.
Smith has "negative stage fright," which will shine through at the 500-odd venue, said her father, Peter Smith. "Sam's performance is different when she has a bigger crowd," he said. "The bigger the venue, the better she performs."
She is a media studies major, with a minor in French, at Vassar College, where she's joined an a cappella group, a women's choir and is singing for a jazz band.
It doesn't leave the college sophomore much time to play her own music, but she hoping to study abroad in Senegal in West Africa her junior year and wants to see how the music will influence her.
"I'm going to try to incorporate it into my own music," she said. "I don't know if it's going to be possible, but I'm going to bring a cheap guitar."
Smith said her music is still evolving. She has a "mess of ideas" after growing up listening to a mix of Queen, Simon & Garfunkel, Avril Lavigne and lots of musicals.
To her, though, music is all about the feeling.
"It's a way of drawing out emotions," she said. "That's what I use it for and that's what a lot of people get from it, only they don't realize it."
If You Go
What: Samantha Smith opens for Dick Dale
When: 8 p.m. Friday, doors open at 6 p.m.
Where: The Coach House, 33157 Camino Capistrano, San Juan Capistrano