Foster to bring Phenomenal show to Canmore

Submitted photo

Ruthie Foster will play the 30th Annual Canmore Folk Festival Saturday (Aug. 4).

By Dave Whitfield - Canmore

After a decade in the music business, some artists would be content to rest on their laurels, soak up the tributes and stay within their comfort zone artistically.

Texas folk diva Ruthie Foster is not one of those artists, however.

Ten years after releasing her debut album, Full Circle, Foster has taken a big step artistically and emotionally with her latest offering - The Phenomenal Ruthie Foster.

Foster will display her phenomenal talent at the Canmore Folk Festival, Sunday,

Aug. 5 - a gig she's fitting into a hectic schedule between a stop in Cambridge, England and Ann Arbor, MI.

Phenomenal debuted at number six on the blues charts in February in the U.S., said Foster from her home in Texas last week. "It's still really popular and I'm just trying to keep up with it. We've been getting great feedback and I'm touring to support it in North America and Europe."

After a gig at the Salty Jam festival in New Brunswick, Foster was kicking back in Texas and, asked for some reflection on the past decade of her music, said, "I'm surprised and happy with how things have gone. Basically, it's a good thing to get a chance to grow. I've had personal growth and growth in my music. I've been playing more keyboards here and there, which is great. There's been a lot of growth and my music's reflecting that."

Much of that ten years' worth of growth is encompassed in Phenomenal, an album in which Foster puts more of herself before the public than in the past. Two of the songs, Harder Than the Fall and I Don't Know What to Do With My Heart concern personal relationship breakups. Phenomenal also sees Foster taking something of a step back, toward her roots of soul, gospel and folk.

The title track, Phenomenal Woman, is a poem written by Dr. Maya Angelou and put to music by Canadians Amy Sky and David Pickell.

"I was in a workshop at a Vancouver Island festival with Amy and Richie Havens and she gave me goosebumps when she went into a song," said Foster. "And I knew about the poem, I've admired D. Angelou, and my jaw hit the floor when Amy started singing it. I thought, 'what a tribute and what a beautiful song'."

After hearing the Sky version, Foster said she was impelled to get both hers and Angelou's permission to use the song. "It kind of sums up what this CD's about, musically and personally. It's where I am personally; I'm in my 40s and still going strong in music.

"I know now it's all right for a woman to stand up and say, 'I'm smart, I'm funny and I'm sexy. And for the songs about past relationships? It was tough at first, I'm still in the middle of it, taking counselling. But it's good to release that and let it go and hopefully heal somebody else.

"It's definitely a healing CD. I get e-mails from people who felt deeply about it and that's important feedback for me. I know I'm not the only one out there (hurting). But I'm good now. Music is a sweet counsel and it can help you so much."

In putting together Phenomenal, like her other albums, Foster likes to set aside a block of time, usually at Christmas, when she can "deflate" while spending time with family and friends. "Songs come to me in different places, on the road, at home, but I like being in one spot to write, create and record.

"I write about life experience, where I get a chance to dig deep about what I've gone through. My background was not so much about music as having a creative outlet. I come from a big gospel family - my mom and others in my family are singers - but I had a rural life too, where trust and values were high and people let a young person be creative.

"And I like recording. It's an arena to put it all on tape and be part of it."

As a child, surrounded by song, Foster's first instrument was the piano. She took lessons, played by ear and eventually picked up guitars, including a steel guitar she loves, but which is heavy to pack around on the road.

But pack it around she does, at times at least, because Ruthie Foster spends a lot of time on the road. "Playing live will always be where the bulk of my joy comes from. It's immediate feedback and it keeps me going on to the next spot. I used to say I liked small venues best, but there are large ones that give them a run for the money.

"And I love playing in Canada. There's so much energy and intensity and you know listeners are paying attention. They might be a mile away at a big folk festival, but they're paying attention. And at Canadian festivals, you get to be in workshops and you get a chance to just walk around and say hi to people.

"You can also look forward to re-connecting with folks you haven't seen for awhile. Eric Bibb is a favourite brother. He's a beautiful man and I can't wait to put my arms around him and give him a big hug."

According to Foster, one of the highlights of playing in Canada is that audiences appreciate all kinds of music. She feels she can play whatever she wants in front of Canadian crowds; roots, soul. "It's not like I nailed one genre and stayed there.

"I like to do songs by other writers, songs by people I love, some are my own that didn't make it to other CDs and some are new stuff."

Foster will be joined in Canmore by Samantha Banks on drums, Tonya Richardson on bass and Pay Boyack on guitar.

Foster takes the stage, Sunday, Aug. 5, along with The McDades (Alberta), Bill Bourne (Alberta), the Bibb Family (U.S.), Chumbawamba Acoustic (U.K.) and Bethany & Rufus (U.S).

Saturday, Aug. 4 features Harry Manx and Kevin Breit along with Kleztory (Quebec), David Francey (Ontario), Black Umfolosi (Zimbabwe), Odetta (U.S.) and Blackie and the Rodeo Kings (Ontario).

Finally, Heritage Day Monday, Aug. 6, will feature Nathan (Manitoba), UHF (B.C.), Martin Simpson (U.K.), Peter Yarrow (U.S.), Laura Love (U.S.) and Compadres (Manitoba/Alberta).

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