Musician meant to take year off to tour, not 10
In 2012, wetland ecologist turned singer-songwriter Jonathan Foster decided to take a year sabbatical to pursue his love of music and tour the country. That year turned into 10, turning his hobby into a career.
“I got my first guitar when I was 15 and taught myself to play,” he said. “By the time I was 18, I started to piece together the kind of music and songs that I write today. Ten years ago, I went out on the road, and I never went back. I have not collected a regular paycheck ever since.”
He said he does more than 150 shows a year and shares his tunes “the old-fashioned way.” He’s also going to release his sixth studio album in June.
On Wednesday, April 26, his journey will bring him to the Roaring Fork Valley for the first time for a one-night appearance at Steve’s Guitars in Carbondale.
The reasons for touring have been consistent since troubadours roamed Europe. Driven by the search for adventure, new audiences, creative inspiration, and financial reward, generations of artists have turned away from the traditional in pursuit of a life on the road, a tradition in America stretching from vaudeville to modern-day mega-festivals like Coachella.
“It’s just me and my guitar and harmonica and vocals,” Foster said. “I’m a very scaled down version of a folk singer, basically, but my songs reach out from the human experience to the environmental. I touch on a lot of the places that I visit, all these many, many miles. I’ve done it all, across our beautiful country, which inspires a lot of my songwriting. Every album and every song comes from a different place. And so, I leave it to the listener for the interpretation.”
He is originally from Cranberry Lake (population 200) in New York’s Adirondacks and now based outside Redding. He said his music reflects the intimate experiences of American life, and being from a small town and a scientist, he creates from a place where humans and the natural environment intersect, taking inspiration from classic and contemporary artists.
“A lot of my heroes and favorite acts are unfortunately not on the road anymore, like The Tragically Hip; but I did see Bob Dylan last June, which was really cool,” he said. “One of my favorite songwriters who has been around a long time is Todd Slater, and he’s still doing it. Jason Isbell has been doing a lot of great things. I always look to him for some good inspiration. And Gillian Welch. She’s super big role model to me. I’ve been listening to a lot more of the early blues last couple of years and rethinking the American experience and trying to look back on like, how unique it is and how lucky I am that I get to do this; and there are so many cool cats that got to do it before me, and it’s not easy for anybody just to set out and do this kind of crazy nomadic thing.”
As with many musicians, the COVID-19 pandemic abruptly brought his touring plans to a halt and shifted his lifestyle.
“I really didn’t know if it was just going to be over,” he said. “I had a tour about halfway booked. I had never had shows canceled before. I got outdoors. I went fishing and camping and was writing and painting and just tried to reconnect with what was important and to regroup and be prepared. There’s still a lot of negative things in my circle and my family, and we all have crazy stories from 2020, whether it’s politics, or the virus, or social unrest. It all went into that album. And I feel like at least I tried to do my best to make something for the world.”
Now, Foster is back to touring full time and finding that audiences are hungry for live music and human interaction. Even through this tough winter weather, his shows have filled with people ready to spend an evening listening to good music with their community, he said.
“There’s a need for real connection off our screens, so the folks that want it find it,” he said. “I just played in Bismarck, North Dakota, Monday night, and it’s 32 degrees, and I didn’t know what to expect. It ended up being amazing. I’m also looking forward to being in your beautiful valley. I hope to provide an intimate nice evening. I love to be able to tell stories about some of the adventures that I get to encounter every week.”
What: Jonathan Foster
When: Wednesday, April 26, 8 p.m.
Where: Steve’s Guitars 19 N 4th St., Carbondale
More info and tickets: stevesguitars.net