By Kevin M. Smith

Killeen Daily Herald

Mitch Connell had a white Christmas – a White House Christmas, that is. The local musician performed in Washington, D.C., last week at the president's staff Christmas party.

"I felt really presidential, especially in the West Wing," Connell said. "It seemed smaller than it seems on TV."

He is in the Granger Smith country band, of College Station. Smith's management company in Nashville arranged the trip.

Connell is a native Killeenite. The general manager and owner of Freedom Jeep Chrysler in Killeen is involved locally in music. He frequently plays for Vive Les Arts Theatre productions and is a pianist at Lifeway Fellowship Baptist Church.

Connell usually plays keyboard for the band, but the only instrument cleared by security was Smith's guitar, so the rest of the band sang instead.

"The drummer and I usually have something to do with our hands," Connell said. "We were just standing there with microphones."

Smith said he enjoyed the government gig.

"It was great," Smith said.

A history major in college at Texas A&M University, Smith said he was excited to see the sights in Washington, D.C.

This wasn't Smith's first government deal. He's performed for troops in Iraq. Smith said he gets a sense of pride when he plays a gig like that.

"It felt like we were serving our country well," Smith said.

He couldn't compare it to other gigs.

"It's completely different when we do stuff for the government like this," Smith said.

Connell said he was impressed with how well the band was treated.

"They can be real thorough and still be nice," Connell said about security.

The group also got to tour the West Wing.

"When you get a West Wing tour, apparently that's pretty rare," Connell said.

Connell said he didn't recognize anybody during the performance.

"I didn't see the president," Connell said. "I know he was there."

The band performed in the Eisenhower Executive Office building on the White House complex. The performance was exactly one week before Wednesday's fire broke out in Vice President Dick Cheney's suite of ceremonial offices.

Connell joined the College Station-based band after he was asked by a friend. Manny Lopez, the band's bass player, has been Connell's friend since high school. The band also includes Michael Holleman on drums.

Granger Smith has performed in the area, including during Killeen's 125th birthday celebration, the Belton Rodeo and several shows at the Harker Heights Event Center.

Contact Kevin M. Smith at or call (254) 501-7550

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