Live Music Capital of the World: Ruthie Foster

Ruthie FosterThere’s no point in living in the Live Music Capital of the World — as Austin bills itself — if you don’t go out and listen to music every once in awhile. So a couple of weekends ago I went out to Antone’s to hear Ruthie Foster.

She blew me away. If you click on the link above, you’ll get a shot of Ruthie’s music and you’ll know what I mean.

I knew I liked Ruthie Foster’s music; I’d heard her songs on KUT. What I didn’t know until I saw her live was that she is one of those performers who makes you feel like you’re part of the show, not just an audience who came to watch.

That’s what live music is all about and it’s why the Austin live music scene has always been special. There’s the possibility of that intimate connection between the person on the stage and the persons who came to listen.

But until I saw Ruthie Foster at Antone’s, I wasn’t sure you could still get a lot of that in Austin, outside of maybe at the Cactus Cafe and other more intimate settings.

I hadn’t been to Antone’s in a lot of years. In fact, the last time I was there, it was at their original location on Guadalupe Street north of the University, not at the downtown location on 5th. (I remember seeing Buckwheat Zydeco there.) Antone’s is the House of the Blues, and I love blues, but the truth is, I figured once it moved downtown it had likely become a little fancy for my taste.

Awhile back I went to another downtown venue to see a singer who’s pretty well known and had been, well, disappointed. The place was crowded, there were no chairs, and there just didn’t seem to be the connection between performer and audience. So I began to think that as music became big-time business in Austin — and it’s right up there with state government, the University of Texas, and high tech in our local economy — some of the connectedness between player and listener had gone.

But I got a good vibe at Antone’s as we stood in line to get in. A guy outside the door was handing out wristbands to distinguish those old enough to drink from those who didn’t make the cut, and he was only asking people who were obviously close to the magic age of 21 for ID. The “will-call” window was a checklist, and pretty casual.

The only thing wrong was that there weren’t any chairs. I wasn’t sure I was going to like that. But when Ruthie and her band took the stage, I forgot all about the fact that I was standing on a hard concrete floor.

Ruthie Foster is a great singer. She understands the blues, can hold a note impossibly long, and can probably sing damn near anything. That could have been enough right there. She’s also a fine guitar player, and writes some good songs, along with singing some classics.

But she also has this amazing smile, and even if you’ve never met her, even if you’re standing in the back of the room and your back is starting to hurt because the floor is too hard, you feel like you’re just right at home at her place and she’s making you welcome.

She had four musicians playing with her, on keyboards, guitar, 5-string bass, and drums. The bassist and the drummer were both women, which was wonderful in and of itself. You see a lot of women fronting bands, but all too often the back up players are all guys.

And these two women could flat out play. The drummer, Samantha Banks, had just as big a smile as Ruthie and moved from music style to music style with ease. She even played the spoons. The bassist, Tanya Richardson, was your classic bass player — kind of unassuming, fading into the background on stage, letting her picking do her talking. After I watched her for awhile, though, I realized she had incredibly large hands. Her instrument looked larger than any of the other guitars on stage, but her hands were easily able to handle the larger fretboard. She’s a large woman — I guess her at 6 feet tall or better, with broad shoulders — but her hands seemed big in proportion to her size. The coolest part about that, though, was that on their encore, she played a fiddle — an ordinary-sized fiddle, vastly smaller than her bass — and her fingers moved as easily on that little instrument as they did on the big one.

So I had a wonderful time. I came home and signed up on the email notify list so that I’ll be sure to catch Ruthie Foster the next time she’s in town (she’s on an international tour these days).

And I stayed happy all weekend, even though standing on that concrete floor for three hours put my back out in spite of all the time caneI’ve spent at the chiropractor of late. (The chiropractor — another wonderful woman — put it back the following Monday and it’s been OK ever since.)

I’m so glad to know you can still catch a great live set in a downtown venue. I’m going again. Though I think I’m going to get me one of those canes that has a seat built into it for going to standing-room-only venues. Standing for a show is OK if I’m dancing, but when I’m not dancing, I want to sit and sip my whiskey.
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Breaking WavesMy story “Emergency” is part of Breaking Waves, an anthology benefitting the Gulf Coast Oil Spill Fund. I also have two essays in the lastest Book View Cafe anthology, Brewing Fine Fiction.

My 51 flash fictions and a few other stories are available on Nancy Jane’s Bookshelf, and anthologies containing some of my stories are available through Powell’s. The free, chapter-by-chapter version of Changeling starts here. And check out my stories in the Book View Cafe anthologies The Shadow Conspiracy, Rocket Boy and the Geek Girls, and Dragon Lords and Warrior Women.

You can also read my latest story — “Or We Will All Hang Separately” — on Futurismic.

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