At least on a per capita basis, the DC metro area must offer one of the highest levels of arts and cultural programming in the country. Remarkably, many of these can be enjoyed completely for free. Fairfax County sponsors the Spotlight by Starlight concert series at Mason District Park, with performances by both local and national touring artists. Not only are these concerts completely free, they are funded entirely by private donations.
My latest delightful journey there took me to see Americana songwriter Radney Foster.
Radney Foster is a highly respected figure in country and Americana, an accomplished songwriter who has also achieved success as a recording artist and performer. After meeting Bill Lloyd in 1985 while working as a staff songwriter for MTM Publishing, the two formed a duo. Their self-titled debut scored three Top 10 country singles. “Texas in 1880,” which Radney included in his set Sunday evening, made the top 20. He wrote the first verse when he was 20, and it followed him for the next seven years.
On July 7, Radney opened with the title track of his latest album, “For You to See the Stars.” As he plugged in his acoustic guitar, he noticed how patient and attentive the audience was. In his Texas drawl, he said “Y’all are about the third politest audience I’ve had all year.”
Radney released his latest album in 2017 with a companion book of short fiction. Throughout the evening, he paired songs and readings, like “Sycamore Creek,” the title of both a song and its accompanying story.
Stream For You to See the Stars by Radney Foster on Spotify:
Radney’s wife suggested that he use one of his older songs for his latest project. For “Raining on Sunday,” released in 1999 (and covered by Keith Urban in 2002), he wrote a story about an attorney in Dallas who’s made “piles of money” in mergers and acquisitions. He seeks to extract himself from that world, and plans to do it by fly-fishing in Colorado for a year. In the scene he shared, this attorney meets a Latina layer who he just can’t understand. That’s the way it should be, Radney said; he told the audience, “We’re not supposed to understand you. You’re supposed to keep us guessing.”
After reading the shortest story in his book, “Bridge Club,” Radney played “The Greatest Show on Earth.” The story begins sometime in early 1963, when Radney was about three-and-a-half, with his father teaching him that he can use a tree instead of running back to the house to use the bathroom. The almost completely true jumps forward to November 22, when Radney ends up dousing his mother’s bridge club, and he learns that he can’t use a tree when there’s company over. He fears a spanking, but the death of President Kennedy overshadows his incident.
After opening with “For You to See the Stars,” Radney mentioned that he’d been opening with a different song for the last 20-25 years. “Just Call Me Lonesome” was one of four Top 10 hits on his debut solo record, Del Rio, Texas 1959. Radney spoke of flying his parents in to see him perform at the Grand Ole Opry, where Del Reeves, after giving him a glowing introduction, referred to him as “Randy Forrester.”
Radney wrote “Love Someone Like Me” with the late Holly Dunn, who just passed away in 2016 at the young age of 59 from cancer. The two met while on staff MTM. Holly charted at #2 with the song in 1987.
Radney described “A Real Fine Place to Start” as “one that Sara Evans stole from me.” Nicole Kidman said his song “I’m In,” is sexy. Her husband, Keith Urban, hit #2 with it. With fellow songwriter Darden Smith, Radney composed the tribute “Angel Flight,” named for the flights that bring servicemen who have perished in the line of duty back home.
As the concert moved on, Radney upgraded his assessment of the audience to possibly his second politest of the year. He told a great joke: A young man says to his momma, “I want to be a musician when I grow up.” She replies, “Son, you can’t have it both ways.”
“Nobody Wins,” Radney’s biggest hit at #2 on the Country singles chart, was to be his last number. The audience won him over though, and he asked if they wanted to hear another after he finished. Prefacing “Los Esueños,” he said that he grew up a mile from the border in Del Rio in a bilingual home. He’s felt very upset by what’s happening on the southern border the last few years, but he feels that changing minds begins with changing hearts. He originally wrote the song 22 years ago when his oldest son went to live with his ex-wife in France, and he wasn’t sure if and when he would see him. He recently rewrote in both English and Spanish.
Luckily, despite storms that dumped torrential on the area over the weekend and causing flash floods Monday, the weather cooperated Sunday night. Radney commented that it was as “almost as humid as East Texas.”
The concert drew a strong turnout, and the crowd’s respectful behavior really combined with the lush green beauty of the park to create a delightful ambience. It’s always nice to see people appreciate good art, and the folks at Mason District Park on Sunday certainly appreciated Radney Foster.