Elisa Smith, Garth Brooks, and the rest is history


There are few people who can pull off a casual Monday afternoon bolo tie -- especially in Boston. Consider Elisa Smith one of those, whether it’s by luck or swagger, who can show up anywhere clad in a bolo tie and undoubtedly look hip. 

Elisa Smith toes the line of fortuity and hard work; she’s clearly driven and bright, but not everyone gets invited on stage to sing alongside Garth Brooks. “I say I was baptized by fire in that moment,” she said. Brooks gave her his guitar as she walked offstage, which spurred the onslaught of musically-motivated action from Elisa: the building of a band, the songwriting, the trips to Nashville.

Before that -- before the run-in with Garth -- her musical identity had essentially come to a halt. “Berklee has changed a lot since I went there, but I graduated with a love-hate relationship with music,” she said. During Elisa’s time at Berklee, they didn’t allow for a second instrument, meaning it didn’t support the singer-songwriter trope; either you sang or you played guitar. That was it. 

With “nowhere to go professionally,” Elisa enrolled in Harvard’s Masters of Arts in Education program, a mix of 31 artists with a shared goal of increasing access to arts education. There, in a lecture in Cambridge, she met Garth Brooks. But it was also there that she was able to “come back to music” in a way that meant reigniting her passion about connecting people around what she says is the “most powerful art form.” 

Originally from the Midwest, Elisa grew up around music and church; her father introduced her to Crosby, Stills, & Nash while introducing the church to new instruments like guitars and drums. Elisa’s music quietly infuses some of those lessons from her father and a Christian Midwest upbringing with songs driven by a curiosity about rigid morality and what it means for those trying to cope with hardships and heartache. 

But more than that, her songs are driven by a love of vintage country -- a kindness given to her by her grandmother. Elisa remembers huddling around her grandma’s country records, hearing stories of Nashville in the ‘50s and ‘60s. And her EP with her band, The Tiny Little Lies, pays tribute to her grandma with one of her sayings: “It’s Good to be Honest But Sometimes Mostly is Good Enough.”

It’s no wonder that, with so much music in her life so early on, Elisa’s life now exudes music.

When she’s not performing in front of crowds, Elisa takes her love of music to Berklee, where she crafts music programs as the Associate Director of Online Curriculum. Part of her job is reading testimonials from students taking her music courses around the world. Elisa regularly reads stories of students in Iran and Afghanistan where music has changed their lives. “Music is the most powerful art form and a common language,” she said. “It gives a voice to those who don’t have one.”

Part of that philosophy trickles down into her songwriting too, even though she classifies her sound as “Bro-country.” On some level, she’s right -- a quick listen and the average audience may stereotype her music as mainstream songs about partying and relationships. A deeper listen grants the audience access to quietly feminist country music that objectifies men and tells stories about women taking control of their bodies. 

As she spends her days swimming through musical landscapes, professionally and personally, Elisa’s time to really shine has arrived. She’ll keep going back and forth from Boston to Nashville, taking notes from her grandmother, while producing her upcoming album, “Baptized by Fire.” The Kickstarter for her album started in early September 2019. 

With an EP and a new album in the works, Elisa is living, breathing proof that sometimes, the things we return to can be even sweeter than the first time around.

Hannah Weiner