Blake Shelton, country music singer and panelist on The Voice, has served another cause near and dear to his heart, which brought him and love interest Gwen Stefani to Fort Smith, Ark., on Thursday (Feb. 8) in a long-planned “spur of the moment” visit.
To celebrate his role as spokesperson for Smithworks Vodka, Shelton played a private show at The Sound Room for hundreds of VIP guests and a Garrison Avenue-filled throng of spectators hoping to squeeze inside on the off chance someone left the show early.
Melissa Hanesworth, managing director of Smithworks Vodka manufacturer Pernod Ricard’s Fort Smith plant, told Talk Business & Politics just before Shelton took the stage it was “safe to say” people would be turned away. As early as noon, there was a line on Garrison in downtown Fort Smith stretching from The Sound Room’s front doors to the corner of 823 Garrison, site of Sake Sushi & Martini Bar, who welcomed the surge in extra business.
The concert went live at around 8:30 p.m., capping off a surprise for Pernod Ricard employees, their families, and select guests that was over a year in the making.
Smithworks Vodka launched in 2015 and Shelton joined the marketing team shortly thereafter, speaking on behalf of the brand and doing bottle signings in emerging markets. This was his first time to meet the 230 men and women of the Fort Smith plant who help produce it as part of a 5.5 million-case annual output.
Not all of that is for Smithworks Vodka as the plant also produces Kahlua Liqueur, Seagram’s Gin, and Malibu Rum, but Smithworks Vodka is one of its fastest growing labels, moving from availability in just four states at inception to 14 in the present.
“From the initial production volume of the plant, we’ve gone up to where we’re producing seven to eight times what we initially started with,” Hanesworth said. “You like to see that nice, steady growth because nice, steady growth means jobs that stay.”
On Thursday morning, Shelton arrived in Fort Smith. Parts of his crew had come in the night before, Hanesworth said.
“We’ve been trying to plan this for quite some time. Since Blake started with us on Smithworks, we always knew at some point he would come and visit the plant where it was made. It’s just been a long time in the planning. A little over a year now.”
Shelton started his visit with the plant in south Fort Smith, where he took a tour, then joined team members working on the Smithworks Vodka production line.
“He literally went out on the floor and spent time helping them. Then he spent some time at a barbecue, came over here, and started getting ready for tonight. So it’s been a full day.”
Hanesworth credited the Pernod Ricard brand team in New York as well as Shelton’s team and “us here at the plant working on the day-to-day” for making the show possible.
“Seeing how much the vodka has grown in a little over a year is amazing,” Shelton said in a previous statement. “Being a part of the Smithworks family since the beginning makes this a really special moment for me. As Smithworks continues to grow, I’m excited we are able to share the spirit of the Heartland with my fans and consumers that have been asking for the vodka since its launch.”
On Thursday, a less-scripted, more at-ease Shelton toasted the Smithworks Vodka team between songs and acknowledged his visit to the facility, bragging, “I got out of there with a case of the stuff.”