Kari Smith has a toolkit most musicians would kill for. She performs solo gigs playing original music, at private events and weddings covering favorites and at public events singing “The Star-Spangled Banner” for thousands. She also teaches guitar, voice, piano and even songwriting.
And Smith gave fans in town a big reason to celebrate when, in 2016, she moved back to the Richmond area after 10 years building her music career in Nashville. We caught up over the phone about that transition and what she’s been up to lately.
When did you start playing weekly gigs at the Wine Loft?
I started in January doing the standing gig there. Performing every Thursday has been great to build up my fan base because it’s easier for people to remember: “It’s Thursday — Kari’s at the Wine Loft.” For now, I’m booked there every Thursday through the end of August and we will reassess then to see if we continue.
What motivated you to start performing the national anthem? It seems so intimidating.
I was raised in a very patriotic home. My dad was in the military and, maybe even more than your typical home, we were raised to have a lot of respect for country and for the flag, so I think that makes it extra special.
The National Anthem is a very hard song to sing, just because you really have to have the range for it. In the beginning, obviously it was a little more nerve wracking…and then as I did it more — baseball games at The Diamond, a rodeo in Nashville’s Bridgestone Arena, a MMA fight in the Richmond Coliseum, a Lipscomb [University] basketball game — it became something that I get less nervous about.
“Forgotten” is moving tribute. How did that song come about?
After being tapped by an organization called Project NAGA [Never Again Grieve Alone] last year, I wrote this song to further their mission of bringing attention to the issue of veterans who are have died or are dying alone or without honors because they’re unidentified, they’ve outlived family and friends or they have physical or mental illnesses that lead to homelessness. Last July, I went back to Nashville and I recorded “Forgotten.” It was amazing to be back in Nashville…to be back in that arena and surrounded by songwriters, artists and musicians.I just hope this song helps bring attention to an issue that sadly so few know about. It can be purchased on my website (see photo caption above) and all proceeds from the sale of this song go to Project NAGA.
How did Richmond change during your time in Nashville?
It definitely seems like there are more venues having live music. I perform frequently in Short Pump, and when I left for Nashville in 2006, Short Pump wasn’t what it is now. So that’s been a huge source of venues for me. Honestly, in those 10 years, Nashville changed way more than Richmond did, which is why I came back here. I have now played over 850 shows in 166 venues in 15 states, but it’s still fun to look for and perform in new venues!
You can catch up with Kari Smith each Thursday at the Wine Loft, 4035 Whittall Way in Glen Allen. You’ll find her complete show schedule on her website — KariSmithMusic.com.