Written by Jane Ponte – December 13, 2019
Radney Foster’s latest album, For You to See the Stars, (Devil’s River Records, 2017) has been out for a good while now, and I’ve listened to it so many times I know it verbatim. It is a collection of songs that are so special, so heartfelt, and so perfectly delivered that I never grow tired of it. I suppose that’s a good thing, because I spent a good portion of last night listening to Foster perform songs from this album and several others at two back-to-back, nearly sold-out shows at The Mucky Duck in Houston.
The album, which he released with a companion book of short fiction with the same name, is an Americana jewel, and I was hoping that last night’s show would feature quite a few songs from it. I got my wish right off the bat, when Foster opened with the title track. From that moment, I could tell this evening was going to be really special, and I was not disappointed. Foster entertained his appreciative crowd for about 3 hours –which were split into 2 separate shows, each featuring some different song choices from a vast musical catalogue that spans over 3 decades. And if that wasn’t enough, Foster also treated us to several readings from his book and played their musical counterparts after each story. Paired with the intimacy and ambiance of The Duck, Foster’s 2 performances were fluid and flawless, and offered his fans a deeply personal glimpse into part of why Foster is such a beloved and revered performer.
Highlights of the evening proved to be too numerous to count but would certainly include Foster reading one short story from his book entitled “Bridge Club,” set in 1963 when Foster was about 4 years old. He had just learned from his father that he didn’t have to dash back to the house every time he needed to use the bathroom while playing outside but could instead just pee against one of the large shade trees in the backyard. What transpires next in the story is both humorous and heartbreaking, and Foster had his crowd spellbound as he read the final paragraphs from this touching, poignant tale. He then launched into the story’s companion song, “The Greatest Show on Earth,” and brightened the mood once again with its homespun lyrics, upbeat tempo, and sincere delivery.
Throughout the evening, Foster regaled his audience with stories from his past–back when he was just hitting the music scene, and anecdotes from more recent times as well. He sprinkled in some old fan favorites, told some jokes, and kept a copy of his book near at hand, mixing in a story or two and playing its corresponding song. He also told a great story of how, when he was first asked to perform at The Grand Ole Opry after the release of his debut solo record, Del Rio, Texas 1959, (which garnered him 4 top ten hits, including “Just Call Me Lonesome” and “Nobody Wins”) he flew his parents in to see him perform, and, after Del Reeves gushed about how he was an up-and -coming sensation, introduced him as “Randy Forrester.” As the audience chuckled, he told them that from that point forward, he began every show by saying, “My name is Radney Foster, and I’m from Del Rio, TX,” and proceeded to play a rousing rendition of “Just Call Me Lonesome.” Other noteworthy tunes from the evening’s 2 shows included “Real Fine Place to Start,” (Another Way to Go, 2002), “Sycamore Creek” and “Howlin’” (For You to See the Stars), “Half of My Mistakes,” (This World We Live In, 2006), “California,” (Everything I Should Have Said, 2014), and “Angel Flight,” a song he co-wrote with Songwriting with Soldiers founder Darden Smith. He also slipped in a few words about how Nicole Kidman, after hearing his song “I’m In,” got Keith Urban to record it, and jokingly thanked Urban for all the mornings that he gets to eat pancakes in his “Keith Urban Memorial Kitchen” at home, due to Urban recording and making a smash hit out of “Raining on Sunday,” which he also performed, much to the delight of his crowd.
What is most uncanny about Radney Foster –at least in my view –is the unlimited supply of talent and energy he seems to possess. We all know that he’s a profoundly gifted songwriter, but about midway into his first show last night I realized that if—heaven forbid—he chose to never write another song again but instead turned solely to writing books, he’d still have a fan base that would remain dedicated and loyal. It was obvious from the warm reception he received last night that although he is best known for writing several of the biggest hit songs to have ever been recorded, his fans love all his work, including his writing. It was both a privilege and a gift last night to hear not only his songs, but his beautifully written, genuine stories as well. It was also exciting to learn in a conversation with him after the show that he’s already 25,000 words in on a new novel he’s writing that’s set in the 1930s, right before World War II. I am already looking forward to reading it and I hope that it serves as inspiration for some new songs as well. I have no doubt that it will, and I’m sure its success will bring him back to Houston to share it with all of us. By then, I will likely have worn out the grooves on his last album. Because –just like Radney himself –it’s truly that good.
~ Jane Ponte