On The Homefront

Southern Cross Rises from the Roots of Dixie Soul


To paraphrase a popular country song, Keith Smith was playing country music in Northeastern Ohio when country wasn’t cool.

A veteran of the local music scene, Smith was one of the founders of the popular country band, Dixie Soul, and played with them until they called it quits in 2015. Now, after some time off, Smith is back on the local scene with a new country band called Southern Cross.

Much like his old band, Southern Cross grew out of some strong friendship with a desire to build something special. When Smith was ready to get back in to the local music scene, he knew he needed a strong female vocalist. Previously, he worked with powerhouse vocalist, Tiffany Hill, but since she and her husband moved to Nashville to pursue songwriting, he needed to find another strong female vocalist.

He found that vocalist in Stark County native Ariel Petrella. Despite being only 29, Petrella has put in some significant time working on her craft and performing with several local bands. She has previously been with Ariel & Rt. 43 and was the female lead in the local country band Backroads. She is a powerhouse vocalist, a strong stage performer and a solid songwriter. She has recorded a couple of original songs and released them a few years back.

Once Petrella was on board, the rest of the band quickly fell in place. Jeremy Fletcher came on board as rhythm guitarist and vocals followed by Paul Hess on Bass. To help fill in the crucial missing pieces, Smith turned to his good friends and Portage County favorites Brian and Billy Posten for lead guitar and drums. Both Brian and Billy, as well as Hess, also split their time with another local country band, Country Fried. Smith decided he wanted to do something a little different with this band so instead of playing bass as he has done for years, he shares lead vocal duties with Petrella.

From the start, Southern Cross worked on developing a wide range of songs to their set list. Whereas Dixie Soul was exclusively country, Southern Cross plays everything from current country favorites to country classics while mixing in some popular classic and southern rock. Their goal is simple; get the crowd up and dancing and having a good time!

Rehearsing for a few months, the band tested their live show at Chuggers in Streetsboro during one of their jam nights. The made their official debut at the Whiskey Ranch in Canton and was met with solid approval from the club’s die-hard country music fans.

When I sat down with Smith, I asked him about how the local music scene has changed over the years. “Well, the local scene is more competitive this time because there are a lot more country bands playing in Northeastern Ohio,” Smith explained. He also added, “Building a following is lot lore difficult even with social media. Less people are interested in watching live music and don’t have strong loyalties to any particular band.”

But on a positive note, he added, “With the rise in interest of country music, there are more places to play. Bars, clubs and festivals are wanting country bands because country music is hot right now.”

Perhaps because of Smith’s experience in booking his old band, along with the stronger interest in country music, he is able to keep Southern Cross busy. This summer, the band will be playing some major local summer events including the Portage County Fair, Twins Day and even the Ohio State Fair. Plus, they have a full schedule at many of the area’s favorite clubs and dance halls.

In addition to the full summer schedule, Southern Cross is continually refining their song list and adding new songs that appeal to all their fans. They will start working on some original material this year and have already performed some of Petrella’s original music at their shows.

Smith also explains, “We are committed to setting ourselves apart from many of the other local country bands in the area. Too many bands are doing the same thing and playing the same songs. It is important to find something that makes you unique as a band.”

Be sure to catch Southern Cross at one of their upcoming shows this summer. They will be performing at Legend’s in Uniontown for their Kickoff of Bike Night on June 5, and at Panini’s in Twinsburg on June 9, where Smith indicated that there will be a special surprise happening. Their complete schedule is also available on their Facebook page.

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