Ruthie Foster returns to Steamboat with Paul Thorn |

Ruthie Foster returns to Steamboat with Paul Thorn

Nicole Inglis

Guitarist and singer Ruthie Foster channels gospel, blues and soul in her 2012 release "Let It Burn." She will play Strings Music Pavilion on Tuesday for a special Valentine's Day show with gospel singer-songwriter Paul Thorn.

— Driving into Santa Barbara, Calif., on Friday afternoon, Ruthie Foster was a long way from her childhood home of Gause, Texas.

But she's never strayed far from her roots because those roots are the church and gospel music that never leave you.

In that little church in that little town of 400 people, her uncle was the deacon and played piano for the choir, which mostly was made up of her family.

"A lot of what you learn first, you don't lose," Foster said in a Friday interview with Explore Steamboat. "Gospel was the first for me.

"I remember the feeling I got when my uncle sang in church. Gospel was where I'd go and still go when I want to feel that ride, when I want to feel that uplift. It flows over into all other genres."

At home, the Fosters played rock 'n' roll and blues, which set the stage for a young Ruthie to grow into her musical career armed with the power of soul and an open mind for the music of the world.

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Ruthie Foster returns to Steamboat to play a show at Strings Music Pavilion on Tuesday — Valentine's Day — with another gospel singer-songwriter, Paul Thorn, opening.

The show starts at 7:30 p.m. and tickets are $39 each for adults and $25 for children. Tickets will go up to $44 on the day of the show.

Foster has known Thorn from afar throughout her career, but this is the first time she's toured with him and gotten to know his humor and depth.

"We used to frequent the same folk festivals," she said. "I'm a big fan. He's real. He's got that Mississippi drawl that's unmistakable, and he's a really introspective songwriter."

Foster writes songs, as well, and some of her original work appears on her 2012 release, "Let It Burn," produced by John Chelew and recorded in New Orleans with famed jazz and funk musicians.

But she also is known for lighting up cover songs with her powerful and steady voice, with which she said she sometimes channels the emotions of other jazz and soul stars like Mavis Staples or Cassandra Wilson.

Foster said she played piano growing up in Texas but always was afraid to sing because of the talent that surrounded her in her family.

She went into the Navy after school to take a break from music, where she worked on electronic panels in helicopter cockpits.

"It gave me a chance to work with my hands, and I loved that part," she said about her job. "It's very detailed work.

"I was really having a good time and making friends. The really great part about being in the military was learning a lot of things about the discipline and service to your community. It was really a good experience."

Between night watches, she played her guitar and began to realize she missed having music as a large part of her life.

When her commanding officer heard her voice, he told her to try out for the Navy band.

She ended up finishing out her tour as a vocalist for a recruiting band, traveling the country playing for high school students to show them another side of the military.

"It was a really good gig," she recalled.

After a stint in New York City, Foster moved to Austin, Texas, seven years ago, where she now lives but leaves often to tour. While she said the focus of recording "Let It Burn" gave her a freedom to bring to each song, she'd rather be on stage than behind a piece of glass.

Perhaps because it's a little more like a Wednesday night rehearsal in her childhood home, or like singing gospel for the Sunday crowds.

"Live, you get the immediate feedback," she said. "And who doesn't love that."

To reach Nicole Inglis, call 970-871-4204 or email

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