Ruthie Foster brought a bunch of friends to her sold-out solo show at Natalie’s Coal Fired Pizza and Live Music.
Foster was alone on stage. But artists such as Patty Griffin, Lucinda Williams and Mississippi John Hurt were there in spirit, as Foster played “When it Don’t Come Easy,” “Fruits of My Labor” and “Richland Woman Blues,” respectively, on a hollow-body electric guitar early in her concert.
Natalie’s is an intimate – so intimate, Foster commented on fans’ salads and pizzas as they noshed – venue and this closeness left the singer in a talkative mood. Foster took time to wish her drummer Samantha Banks a speedy recovery from a recent stroke; tell hilarious stories about hanging out with blueswoman Jessie Mae Hemphill; and reminisce about growing up in the Southern church, singing in the choir and learning about life from her “big mama.”
But it was the songs that brought the fans to Natalie’s. And the songs Foster delivered, accompanying herself on guitar and piano – “p-nano,” as her 6-year-old calls it – during her 90-minute set. And while Foster is an adept guitarist and pianist, it was the a cappella – “acapelli,” as her late father called it – numbers that got concertgoers out of their seats.
Fans clapped along as Foster wailed the words to a shanty about the Titanic – part gospel, part folklore, this song allowed Foster to show off her greatest instrument, the one she was born with. At the end of the evening and joined by a local friend, Foster did it again – singing a righteous version of Son House’s “Grinnin’ in Your Face,” that left the audience on its feet and clamoring without success for an encore.
While a version of Johnny Cash’s “Ring of Fire,” set to a melody that recalled “What’s Going On,” fell flat, the evening featured many other highlights, including a guitar romp through Sister Rosetta Tharpe’s “Up Above My Head,” the Civil Rights-era anthem “Woke Up this Morning (With My Mind Stayed on Freedom)” and “Phenomenal Woman,” a Maya Angelou poem set to music, which Foster played at the piano.