Like many successful country songwriters, Radney Foster is an accomplished storyteller. Last year, he took this aspect of his artistry to the next level, publishing a collection of short stories, “For You to See the Stars,” to accompany his album of the same name (featuring, mostly, new songs). July 12 at the 22nd annual Black Potatoe Music Festival in Clinton, he brought along the book, and a special lamp so he could make out the words clearly onstage, and read excerpts from the stories before performing some of the corresponding songs.
It would have been a great set even without the story excerpts. But they helped add even more depth and atmosphere to Foster’s songs, and made them even more memorable.
In his nearly 40-year career, Foster has had some hits on his own (“Nobody Wins,” “Just Call Me Lonesome”) and as a member of the duo Foster & Lloyd (“Crazy Over You,” “Sure Thing,” “Fair Shake”). He also has had great success as a songwriter, with artists such as Keith Urban, the Dixie Chicks and Sara Evans having recorded his songs. Before performing “I’m In” (a No. 2 country hit for Urban in 2010) in Clinton, he joked that he calls one of the rooms in his house the “Keith Urban Memorial Kitchen.”
Like many country artists, Foster doesn’t perform in New Jersey very often, so this was a great chance to hear him do a full set, on a beautiful night in a picturesque setting — Black Potatoe’s main stage sits at the base of a 150-foot limestone quarry, on the grounds of the Red Mill Museum.
Singer-guitarist Foster performed with the help of Ed Heinzelman on lead guitar and backing vocals, on a set ranging from the rousing “A Little Revival” to the lullaby “Godspeed (Sweet Dreams),” and from the taut rockabilly of “Just Call Me Lonesome” to the classic-sounding country storytelling of “Sycamore Creek” (one of the new For You to See the Stars songs). The reading + song format worked particularly well on this last number, helping to paint a vivid portrait of the creek, and what happened there.
The Black Potatoe Music Festival takes place all day, on two stages, July 14 and 15, but there was music at night only, on July 12 and 13. I also particularly enjoyed, on July 12, the fiery blues-rock of Debra Devi and her band, who are from Jersey City, and the smooth, easy-going folk-rock of American Beauties, from Boston. Both preceded Foster on the main stage.
Performing last one the second stage, Andrew Dunn (joined, at times, by one or both of his daughters) charmed with a set that ranged from the sweetly sentimental, James Taylor-esque “The House Above the Factory” to a catchy new novelty song about the allure of buying cheap junk in tourist-trap gift shops.
For more on the festival, visit blackpotatoe.com.
Foster also performs, with Tom Baz opening, at the free Country Sundays series at Parker Press Park in Woodbridge, July 15 at 6 p.m.; visit woodbridgeartsnj.org.
Here are some videos of Foster, shot on July 12.