Ruthie Foster was the featured artist at the River Rhythms concert in Albany, Oregon on July 28, 2022. The summer concert series is free and is sponsored by local and national businesses operating in the Willamette Valley to raise money for the Oregon food bank. Donations are optional but a one dollar offering is suggested. The summer temperature was over ninety degrees when the show began at 7:00 PM.
When Foster came on stage she was introduced as a navy veteran and told the crowd that she worked on helicopters for a year but it was too much like work so she joined the navy band as a vocalist fronting everything from a big band to a country band. Prior to beginning her set she commented to the crowd that “this is breezy compared to Texas weather. This is a song I wrote with my grandmother and I called her my big momma” Ruthie explained as she began “Brand New Day.”
Before she began she began “Richland Woman Blues” by Mississippi John Hurt she introduced the band members, Scottie Miller on keys and mandolin, Brannen Temple pounding the drums and Larry Fulcher thumping the bass. Halfway through the song the speakers on the left side of the stage died but the band played right through it. At the song’s conclusion Ruthie announced that because the sound was so flawed that they were going to perform the song again with the sound system working correctly, with keyboardist Scottie Miller playing mandolin to accompany Foster’s singing.
“Hurry down, sweet daddy, come blowin’ you horn
If you come too late, sweet mama will be gone”
Another original tune followed called “Smalltown Blues” that had a country flavor to it. When she introduced “Fruits of My Labor” by Lucinda Williams she talked about how much she loved her songs and then explained that when she first heard this one that she saw Sam Cooke or Otis Redding singing it as she stretched her vocals.
“Woke Up this Morning” was a soaring all out gospel song that Ruthie introduced by explaining the church scene when she was growing up. Her grandma and all the other women in the church were sitting over in a corner praying and trying to out-pray each other. “In fact” she said “they could out-pray the preacher as she broke into song.
“Don’t you know that I’m walking and talking with my mind
Stayed on freedom”
Everyone else joined in on beat singing and clapping in time. Drums beat time as tears welled up in my eyes as she took her voice to the limit. She sang another original composition, “Stone Love” followed by “Grinnin’In Your Face” a Son House cover that she began as a solo acapella field holler that broke into song.
“Woah bear this in mind, a good friend is hard to find
Woah don’t you mind people grinning in your face”
“This is a song you may know that we did something different with,” Ruthie explained. Keyboardist Scotty Miller reminded me of a young Peter Fonda as he played a jazzy intro on his NORD Stage 2 electric piano. Pete Seeger’s anthem “If I had a Hammer” began with a slowed down tempo. The piano was dominant with a steady Rhythm section beat accompanying it. The piano carried it with an ultra dexterous touch and alternated with Ruthie’s soaring voice until it concluded. Ruthie thanked the audience and announced we’re going to do some blues as a jazzy blues opening began as Miller began manipulating the harmonics on his Hammond B3 organ while Ruthie sang “Runaway Soul,” another original. Foster talked about how in her room she hears music as an introduction to “Up Above My Head” by Sister Rosetta Tharpe. She belted it out and strummed her guitar as passionately as she sang. The band sang in response to her singing and Scottie Miller once more accompanied Foster with delicate piano notes. Foster co-wrote “Might Not Be Right” with William Bell and performed it soulfully reminiscent of Mavis Staples.
“Might not be right
But it’s alright for this girl.”
In between songs band members grabbed towels to wipe off the sweat from the ninety-degree sun beating down on them from the backless stage. “We got a couple more for you,” Foster announced as she began “Singing the Blues” another original composition. Ruthie’s voice soared as she accompanied herself on guitar with the band providing support with the mesmerized audience in tow. “We’ll end with a little bit of reggae” as the band broke into “I Got a Real Love” another original tune. Ruthie continued to stretch her amazing voice as she and the band jammed on the song allowing every band member to take a solo until they concluded after ten minutes.
“All I really wanna know is
Do you got a real, real, real love”
For the encore, Ruthie announced “we’re going down memory lane” into 8 track territory.” “I’ll Be Around” by the “Spinners” was the final number that left the crowd still dancing to the beat as they exited the park and roadies broke down the stage.