When Kyle Hutton asked Radney Foster to help with a project he’d been mulling over—a five-song EP inspired by the joys and challenges he’d experienced working with the Texas foster care system—he didn’t know that Foster also had a personal connection to the system.
“Kyle had no idea that I had family members who were adopted,” Foster recently told me. Foster, a Nashville-based songwriter who grew up in Del Rio, has a younger brother and sister who were adopted. “After I was born, my parents couldn’t have kids anymore,” he said, then added with a chuckle, “which both of my siblings still tease me about ruthlessly.”
And Hutton’s relationship with the foster care system began soon after he was born. “For the first six weeks of my life, I was in the care of the DePelchin Children’s Center, an adoption agency in Houston,” Hutton said. Or at least that’s what he thinks happened; he can’t be sure. Hutton had a closed adoption, which means he does not have access to his early records. “I believe I was fostered in that facility or through a volunteer associated with DePelchin,” he explained. “I was adopted when I was six weeks old. That’s how life started out for me.”
Two years ago, Hutton and his wife, Tara, realized the state was facing a critical shortage of safe homes for children in the system. They decided to go through the process of becoming foster certified. Since then, they’ve had six children stay in their home. It was during the couple’s first fostering experience that Hutton, who’s been writing songs since he was an undergraduate at Texas A&M in the nineties, began to scribble ideas for what would become The Foster EP.
The final result is a record comprised of four original compositions that Foster and Hutton collaborated on together. The last track is a cover of “Amazing Grace,” which features several of Foster and Hutton’s famous friends from the Texas music scene (see the following Q&A for the story behind the song choice, as well as the full lineup of guest appearances).
Below is an exclusive premiere of the EP, which is currently available for pre-order and officially drops on March 31. All proceeds will be donated to foster care organizations through Hutton’s Real Life Real Music Foundation. Foster and Hutton will be performing songs from the album, as well as others from their catalogues at the LifeAustin Amphitheater on April 2. They’ll be joined by First Lady Cecilia Abbott, Brendon Anthony of the Texas Music Office, and Commissioner Hank Whitman of the Department of Family and Protective Services, as well as local organizations who will be on hand to field questions from those who’d like to know more about the foster care system.
The following interview has been edited for clarity and length.
Christian Wallace: Both of you have personal history with the foster care system, but, Kyle, you are actively involved with fostering children. Can you tell me a little about that?
Kyle Hutton: Tara and I have two children in our home currently. The thing about fostering is you grow attached to the children and they grow attached to you. It’s hard. If they’re not going to be reunited with their parents, you surely don’t want to see them bounced around in the system. I wouldn’t be surprised if one of the placements doesn’t end up being permanent, but we do have older children. I have a nineteen-year-old son, a seventeen-year-old son, and a thirteen-year-old son. We didn’t get into this because we wanted to paint a room pink and get a baby bed. We did this because we felt like it was a social responsibility and a responsibility that our faith places on my family to help these kids out.
CW: Was the impetus to do this project now prompted by the recent headlines about CPS?
Radney Foster: We weren’t smart enough to be able to be that timely.
KH: No, there wasn’t a master plan. I went over to meet with Brendon Anthony [director of the Texas Music Office], and he said these songs are about issues that are high on the governor and first lady’s list because they’re adoptive parents. He made a couple of introductions, and the rest is kind of history. The state has gotten involved and said some really nice things about the record and the songs, and that’s led to us being invited into the larger conversation about the foster care system that’s been going on for a long time.
CW: I wanted to touch on a couple of the EP’s songs. When I first listened to “Three More Bottles,” the meaning flew over my head. I thought it was another sad country drinking song, but then I listened to it two or three more times and realized, “He’s not talking about Lone Star.”
RF: Kyle came to me with the idea for that song and told me the story. Basically, one of their first foster care kids was an infant. They cared for that child for six weeks knowing that she was either going back to her own mother or was going to be adopted by another family. So they knew walking in that they we’re going to fall in love with this baby, but that she was going to leave. About five-thirty in the morning the day that Kyle knows a family is coming to get this little girl, he opened the fridge and there were only three more bottles of formula. He was like, “Three more bottles, and she’s gone.” That struck him kind of funny, so he wrote it down. Then he asked me, “Can we write this as a stone-cold, Merle Haggard-style country song?” So that’s what we did. It was by intention that you get through the first verse, then think, “This is just a country drinking song, but why is it that: ‘I’ve always known she’s leaving/Right from the very start/I knew I’d give her everything/And I knew she’d break my heart.” You start to get curious about that. Then people get to the bridge at the end, and they go, “Oh! Now I get it.”
KH: One of the emotional choices for the record was the cover we did of the old John Newton song, “Amazing Grace.” When we started bringing kids into the house and didn’t know how long they were gonna stay, my wife said, “I wish there was something we could leave each one of them with—even if they’re babies, maybe could leave them some kind of an anchor that triggers a thought or a feeling.” She said, “Let’s sing ‘Amazing Grace’ to them every night before they go to bed. Whoever puts them down last sings through a few verses.” When we were putting this record together, Tara and I talked about it. I said, “We need to put that on there.” Then we floated the thought out to a few of our songwriting buddies, and now we’ve got a slew of ‘em singing on “Amazing Grace” with us. That turned out to be, in my opinion, one of the coolest tracks on the record.
CW: And who all ended up on that track?
KH: Lloyd Mains is on dobro. Clayton Corn, our producer, is playing the keys. Mr. Foster played the electric guitar. Then [on vocals] in order of appearance, you’ve got Radney, then Roger Creager, Pat Green, Cory Morrow, Wade Bowen, and myself. The one female voice you hear is my wife’s.
CW: I know the proceeds from the record are meant to raise awareness for foster care organizations, but how will the funds be distributed?
RF: Kyle set up a foundation for those purposes.
KH: Real Life Real Music Foundation is our Texas-based 501(c)(3), but, because this initiative is so new, we haven’t decided, “We’re going to focus on charities that teach job skills to foster kids who are aging out of the system.” We’re not that specific in our focus yet. To date we’ve made donations to the Salvation Army in Austin to help sponsor an event that raised money for a shelter meant to help take care of women and children off the street. We’ve made donations to organizations that conduct retreats for foster parents. As you can imagine, kids that have been through a lot of trauma can be trying on individuals and marriages. We’re partnering with organizations like Fostering Hope Austin, which is one of the beneficiaries of the event that we’re doing in Austin on April 2.
RF: Kyle and Tara are also really good about going into community centers and talking from a first-hand perspective about what it’s like to be a foster parent. They explain things people can do as a community that would help. In other words, if you have a family that says they can foster, it would mean a lot to them if you get child CPR-certified so that you can be a babysitter. The rules change when you have a foster child in your care. You can’t just have someone come over and watch them. It takes a community of people to help, to say we understand you are going to bear the brunt of this responsibility but we as a community—whether it’s a church, mosque, synagogue, or whatever—we’re going to help you. Holding child CPR classes at your home is a massive thing, but nobody thinks about it.
CW: Is that the ultimate goal—to make people aware of the problems facing the foster care system?
KH: Whether it’s DFPS [Department of Family and Protective Services] or the advisors from the governor’s office who have had conversations with us, I think everybody’s hope is that we find people like Tara and I who have a light bulb come on and say, “You know what, we’ve got an extra bed; we’ve got extra food in the pantry. Our family is set up to where we could give a kid a place to stay.” We all see what happens when you get into the politics and the bureaucratic red tape of the foster system; it’s really hard to get stuff done. This effort is about is finding some kids good, loving homes. It’s not about politics. It’s not about dollar signs. If we can go out and tell this story, and it winds up with a few more kids having a safe place to stay, that’s what would be the most fulfilling.
RF: That would be a home run.