There is a crowd of people standing on a Chicago street corner on a warm summer evening, happily shouting and intermittently clapping. The mass of people could be cheering for a talented juggler or a street painter, but then a woman’s voice becomes discernible, carrying easily through the humid air and accompanied by the resonant melody of an acoustic guitar. Dancing audience members — about 40 of them — surround the young busker, guitar case open for tips as she casually takes suggestions from the cluster of people. Sounds like something out a movie, right? It’s just how Kara Goldsmith spent one evening this summer.
“If you really ever find that you don’t think that you’re confident as a performer, that you don’t think that you can do it—well, being in a situation like that puts you out there,” says Goldsmith, a Communication senior with a penchant for songwriting and performing. “It’s just balls-to-the-walls, lay it all out and that’s what I want to try to strive to do every time that I perform.”
Goldsmith’s strategy has worked so far. Since she started playing the guitar as a sophomore in high school, Goldsmith has been a part of numerous ensembles, won songwriting awards and had her music featured in the iTunes store. At Northwestern, Goldsmith has played a major role in the Niteskool program, which was designed to promote student musicians on campus, and she frequently DJs WNUR’s Rock Show.
Luis Pineiro is the drummer for The Cables, a group Goldsmith founded for the 2011 Mayfest Battle of the Bands. He says that the singer’s passion for music is infectious.
“She’s just a lover of music; she just has a really strong passion for that and it can be manifested in any way,” says Pineiro, a Communication junior. “She’s always inviting and welcoming and doing something musical, in one way or another, and that translates to the rest of the group. The rest of us want to be there with that same energy, and bring that same passion to the table.”
Although Goldsmith has been a performer for most of her life, singer-songwriter hasn’t always been the role of her choice. As a kid, Goldsmith channeled her enthusiasm for music into choirs and musical theater. It wasn’t until high school that Goldsmith began to branch out from “the little microcosm of musical theater” she was familiar with, and came across the genre of music — influenced by artists like Joni Mitchell and Iron & Wine — that has become her trademark.
Another reason for Goldsmith’s success is her refusal to conform to musical archetypes.
“Female-fronted bands are not something that’s that typical,” says Goldsmith, referencing both The Cables and an earlier Northwestern project, Kara & The Creepers. “I definitely see that there’s kind of this need for more bands with a female leading the way.”
Goldsmith is part of the girls-only a cappella group Significant Others, and she has further pursued femme rock by performing with her friend Ursula Ellis both with The Cables and as a duo in New York City.
“She definitely has the ability to amass a following and to get people excited,” says Ellis, a Communication senior who sings and plays mandolin. “She’s versatile. It’s great fun playing with her.”
Although she’s an RTVF major, Goldsmith is sure she wants to continue with a career in music after she graduates in June.
“Without music I don’t know what I’d be doing,” she says. “I’d like to work for a record label or something, while trying to pursue my own musical endeavors. Even if I’m writing songs for other artists to sing or writing songs for licensing on reality TV shows, I just want to continue writing songs, even if it’s something I have to do on the side.”
Ultimately Goldsmith’s goal is to find a medium where she can express herself the way she wants to.
“It’s kind of like when you have these ideas in your head, and it sounds stupid, but you have to get them out,” Goldsmith says. “You don’t want to stop because it’s very addicting. It’s therapy, but it’s also scary.”