For Reading Blues Fest headliner Ruthie Foster, it's 'Healing Time'

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Nov. 12—Berks Arts will present a long-awaited performance by Grammy-nominated singer-songwriter Ruthie Foster and her band as one of the highlights of the Reading Blues Fest.

With Kevin Burt and Big Medicine also on the bill, Foster will be featuring songs from her latest album, "Healing Time" (2022), on Saturday at 8 p.m. in the DoubleTree by Hilton Reading Grand Ballroom.

Foster, raised in a gospel-singing family in tiny Gause, Texas, northeast of Austin, began her vocal journey in church, and then started performing in blues bands while attending college at McLennan Community College in Waco. She built a career that has produced a dozen albums and has garnered her three Grammy nominations, three BMA's for Best Female Vocalist, many other awards and accolades from fans of the blues all over the country.

It all came to a halt in 2020 when the COVID-19 pandemic struck. During the shutdown, Foster hunkered down in her home south of Austin, and started writing the songs that would become "Healing Time."

"The idea came to start writing and see what I could come up with, and have my band help me out from the beginning," she said. "We had just lost a band member (her long-time friend and drummer Samantha Banks), and I wanted to commemorate her. So, I started with one or two ideas, and the other fellas sent tracks to me, and pretty soon we had an album."

When they finally could get together to record, they worked with producer Mark Howard at Studio 71 West and Blue Rock Studio in the Austin area and Esplanade Studios in New Orleans. The final songs were recorded with producer Dan Barrett (Howard was moving to Halifax), back in Austin at the Electric Deluxe Studio.

Soon after the album was released, they were back on the road in 2022.

"We had to mask up at the airports and in the planes, and had to be vaccinated for the venues," Foster said. "But it was all worth it; everybody managed to stay healthy. It's harder to tour now, with higher prices and cancellations and fewer flights available. But I'm grateful that I still get a chance to do this. I really do love performing; that's what gets me there."

Local blues fans may recall that Foster and her band came to Berks Country Fest in 2015; those who attended were treated to a powerful and memorable concert. For her return to the area, Foster will be bringing pianist Scottie Miller and bassist Larry Folger, who can be heard on "Healing Time," and Austin-based drummer/percussionist Brian Mendes.

Foster said she plans to devote at least half of the concert to songs from "Healing Time," but will also include fan favorites like "Phenomenal Woman," her setting of the Maya Angelou poem.

In talking about her time in Waco, where her career began, she credited McLennan's "commercial music" major with giving her the tools to pursue that career.

"It was like a little Berklee," she said. "We studied vocal performance, but there was also a music business class, orchestration, theory — I use everything I learned in those three years there."

Foster spent three more years serving in the U.S. Navy, where she not only received further musical training to be part of the Navy recruit band but was also given the opportunity to travel. The band, whose mission was to allow students to see the armed forces in a positive light and hopefully sign up, would perform Top 40, R&B and pop music in high schools throughout the country. Foster, as a vocal soloist, learned how to connect with the toughest of audiences.

"I always found out who the principal was, and the vice principal, the most popular guy and girl," Foster said. "I'd always sing a ballad to the principal, and the kids loved that. You had to be really good because they would boo you off the stage otherwise! We got the crowd going."

Foster spent time in New York City, performing at various venues, and attracted the attention of a major record company. But in 1993, she moved back home to take care of her mother, who was ill, until 1996.

"They were three great years," she said. "We talked and laughed and prayed together and cried together and she told stories I'd never heard before."

She worked at a television station in nearby College Station, putting her career on hold except for some weekend gigs.

After her mother passed away, she moved to Austin and released her first album, "Full Circle," in 1997. As she continued her career, she said: "I sing to her. One song on every album is dedicated to her. She was a singer; she had a beautiful voice. I sing more like her the older I get."

Foster was getting ready to perform on the Legendary R&B Cruise to the Mexican Riviera from Oct. 28 to Nov. 4; then one show in Austin before coming to Reading.

"I've spent a lot of time saying yes," she said, referring to her life in music. "It's about the adventure. Whatever happens, it's a blessing or a lesson."

If you go

Event: Reading Blues Fest presents Ruthie Foster with Kevin Burt & Big Medicine

When: 8 p.m. Saturday

Where: DoubleTree by Hilton Grand Ballroom in downtown Reading

Tickets: $59

Web: For information on this concert and for a complete Reading Blues Fest schedule, ticket purchases and artist bios, visit