A few years ago, my roommate bought me tickets to see Ruthie Foster at City Winery in Nashville. It was my birthday and she had heard me talking for years about how I wished Ruthie was my auntie. When I was young, my dad showed me a DVD of Ruthie live in Austin, Texas, but that could not even match the power of what I was about to experience that evening in Nashville.
The moment Ruthie walked on stage, I wept. It was just her, her commanding voice and masterful guitar playing for the very first few tunes. I’m pretty sure I cried through all of them. Her voice filled the room from the first note, and her stories were so similar to mine that I felt like she was telling my very own family’s stories. Later in the show, she brought her drummer on stage for a while, but she maintained control and power over that stage. Her playing style reminded me of what I would hear my grandfather and father playing in church. A full drum kit was no match for her voice and her presence.
When the concert was over, I had the privilege of meeting her very briefly. I walked up to the stage (something I never do), I hugged her neck, and told her “thank you, you’re amazing, I’m in awe of you” and some other blubbering words. I was definitely crying and doubtful that she could understand a word I said. It took me a while after I left the venue to understand precisely why Ruthie’s performance touched me so. It’s very simple, yet a bit complicated all the same — that night I saw a reflection of myself. Ruthie Foster was a reflection of me on stage, owning her space and her history and sharing her stories of love and her challenges, and she was fully embraced and unconditionally accepted by the audience. That night I understood how powerful my vulnerability could be for even just one person in the room.
Kyshona Armstrong performs Nicole Miller’s Transition with Lady Jess, Zak Forrest and Nancy Stella Soto at 7 p.m. on Saturday, February 8 at Walt Disney Concert Hall.