On an Indian summer evening with just the hint of a breeze after a warm day, a voice as rich and light as a ruby-throated hummingbird rose over the Eastborough neighborhood, coming from the home of Nola and Steve Foulston. The song “Shenandoah” lofted through the air.
Singer-songwriter Belinda Gail accompanying herself on an acoustic guitar, was giving a house concert hosted by the Foulstons. She described her music as “some Western swing, a little bit of finger-picking and straight-up folky guitar. I just take the crowd on a journey through the West.”
Gail was careful to explain the distinction between country and Western music: Western is more akin to bluegrass, folky in flavor and features acoustic guitars, upright basses, banjos and fiddles. The songs are story-driven, with themes of ranch life and wide-open spaces and family-friendly enough for grandmothers or grandchildren alike.
As promised, Gail’s set was sprinkled with the stories behind the songs. Her guitar took on the character of Comanche drumbeats or the chords of a trail hand’s after-dinner serenade. The singer-storyteller wove tales describing everything from a cowboy’s sweetheart to chuck wagons to “Granite Mountain” — the latter a song she penned about the mountain behind her Prescott, Arizona, home and the firefighting hotshots who saved her house from a blazing wildfire.
“Granite Mountain” is also the title of Gail’s latest album, which was awarded the Western Music Association’s 2014 Album of the Year. She is also a seven-time Female Performer of the Year and was named “One of the Top 50 Country and Western Performers of All Time” by American Cowboy Magazine.
A Down-Home Concert
While house concerts are a budding phenomenon for Wichita, Gail is an old hand at them for 18 years now. It was while visiting Prescott for a house concert that she and her husband, Bob Lorbeer, fell in love with the mountain town and moved there to be closer to her many Southwest gigs.
She also books large “anchor concerts” all over the country, like the one in Branson, Missouri, she was en route to when she made the stopover with the Foulstons. Nola’s family and the Lorbeer family were friends when Nola was a teenager in upstate New York. Years later when Nola heard Gail perform at the Prairie Rose Chuckwagon, she told the singer to be to sure to call the next time she came through town.
“House concerts are some of my favorite things to do,” said Gail with her characteristic warm grin. “They’re intimate and relaxed. You can visit with the people. You can tell the backstories of all the songs.” And they’re also a fun way for audiences to connect with independent artists.
Gail once played a house concert in Lawrence, where, because of a scheduling mishap, only five people showed up. But she still gave it her all.
“Whether it’s one person or 1,000 people, they get the same show.” It turned out that one of the five audience members was a regional manager with Purina, who hired her to do a tour through Kansas and Missouri sponsored by Purina and John Deere. She and her singing partner at the time spent a month giving concerts in huge stores surrounded by Western clothing, feed and tractors.
In the Foulstons’ backyard, the singer was encircled by ivy-covered stucco walls, flowering shrubs and trees strung with white lights. More than 45 people turned out to hear her songs and strumming.
“This was the most incredible experience,” said Nola. “But for Belinda and Bob, I wouldn’t have even known what a home concert was — and of course, she made it a tremendous success. I’ll be singing her Western songs every time I get on my horse.”