When Kenny Foster left his Missouri home for Nashville, he quickly realized that he wasn’t from the South. But he did come to crave what he calls ‘Southern’ or ‘Hillbilly’ wisdom.
“It’s this idea that things can be learned by watching others, listening to others, reading, telling stories.” Foster said. “We are all standing on top of everything that’s been done before us. At our best, that’s what we’re doing here.”
Between Nashville and Missouri, Foster collected plenty of it. And he gladly dispenses it throughout his album ‘Somewhere In Middle America.’ It’s what makes this album different than so many other Americana or country albums set in a small town. There’s an expected celebration of the lifestyle to be sure, but it goes much deeper. It’s almost as if Foster is sharing a memoir at the same time as crafting a guide to truly find enjoyment in middle American life.
On ‘Good For Growing Up,’ Foster imagines a new family moving into his childhood home. He does his best to teach the new young resident all the secrets of living there from the early childhood experience of fearing the pipes in the closet to the teenage years of sneaking out. On ‘Said to Somebody,’ the advice is for an older audience and about the things we need to say before it’s too late. Foster, who studied philosophy in college, is at his strongest when he’s sharing such folk wisdom.
When I spoke with Foster, he was at his childhood home on an extended Thanksgiving visit. He spoke glowingly of his parents and his childhood, even if he grew up with limited resources. ‘Poor Kids’ spins that into a positive, talking about the richness his childhood held in terms of imaginative adventures.
“It was more magical because you didn’t know what you were up against,” Foster said. “The joy existed between your ears.”
‘Copy, Paste, Repeat’ gets into the difficulties of growing into adulthood in the confines of a small town, especially for anyone who happened to be a little different.
“Sometimes people stay where they are just because they feel like they should, and I think that had a little bit of heartbreak for me,” Foster said.
His own decision to head off into the world was made easier by the support he received at home.
“I’m grateful for the roots my family provided, but also my father always said he wanted to provide wings as well so his kids could go off knowing who they were and they had a place where they belonged,” he said. “Leaving, as difficult as it was, held excitement. It’s a pretty big undertaking and it can’t be understated just because it’s become so normal in modern life. It hasn’t been long that we as a society have been doing that.”
‘Farmer’ is a song that pulls the wisdom and the branching out together and winds up being the strongest on the album. It talks about how middle American virtues like patience and hard work are worthy for someone to pursue even away from the farmland where they learned them. Foster confirmed that he wanted to pass down the wisdom he acquired growing up to his newborn, even if he leads a different life than his parents did. In fact, he hopes the apple once again falls a little farther away from the tree.
“I really hope he doesn’t go into music or philosophy,” Foster said smiling. “Maybe we can push him to some things that are more practical. But I’m not going to hamper anything he wants to do.”
Love, support, folk wisdom, and lots of good music. Sounds like a childhood full of lots of joy between the ears to me.
Above is the full episode as aired on WUSB’s Country Pocket, including both my interview with Kenny Foster and the songs we discussed, starting with Poor Kids, which brought back those memories of early childhood when my imagination was a force for whimsy instead of worry. You can hear the show live every Monday at 11am on WUSB 90.1 FM or check the blog to watch it as a YouTube playlist. Visit http://www.WUSB.fm and https://kennyfostermusic.comfor more