If you’ve spent any amount of time in Houston’s metal scene, it’s likely you’ve come across one of its most celebrated members, sound engineer Reuben Foster. The bearded, serious yet smiling face behind Scout Bar’s soundboard is one of the most familiar in Houston's live-music community.
Foster has been at the helm of some of Houston’s most demanding stages, and his contribution to the local scene cannot be understated. From the Meridian to Engine Room and most recently at Scout Bar — Foster’s time behind the board has seen literally thousands of musicians and hundreds of bands and will likely see many more.
As a man with a passion for music and an earthy pragmatism when it comes to sound, Foster will tell anyone exactly how it is. There’s no placating tender rock egos with him; with that, he adjusts and balances sound accordingly, because at the end of the night it’s his board and he always makes the band sound exceptional, if not better. And it’s that mercurial, salt-of-the-earth disposition that Foster is known for, and he uses it to his advantage. Foster’s expertise is not just a luxury; it’s a necessity for our scene.
Shelby Schwem, front man for local metal band Green as Emerald, agrees. ““Reuben takes his job as serious, if not more at times, as the bands he works with," he says. "No matter how much you rehearse and how great your equipment is, you only sound as good as your sound guy makes you, and he makes you sound like a million bucks night in and night out.
"And although he comes off as a hardass at times, he's actually one of the nicest and most intelligent guys you can talk to — not only about music, but a multitude of other topics," Schwem adds. "He is as important to our scene as any band out there.”
Looking around his home, it's immediately apparent how much music absorbs Foster's life. Amid guitars, amps and walls decked in concert memorabilia and art, Foster unravels tale after tale of his own personal history. It’s a narrative not unlike that of many artists, fueled by a compulsion to be part of a creative community at any cost. And as with most artists, the cost comes with Foster's lack of medical benefits, among other numerous sacrifices — but this one is especially debilitating in light of his degenerative disc disease. Yet Foster says he couldn’t imagine doing anything else; his heart (and good ears) belong to this community.
Now the community's camaraderie has come together to help Foster at this critical time. When his condition recently forced him to take off work intermittently, friends and musicians created a GoFundMe page on his behalf. Between the cost of the surgery and the time off work for recovery (usually six to eight weeks), Foster estimates he needs a total of $60K to make it through.
Desperately trying to find comfort and a momentary release from the pain, Foster leans at an awkward angle on his wide couch and proceeds to describe his previous surgeries. To date, all of them have totaled thousands of dollars — no small amount of chump change by any stretch. This is not Foster’s first surgery to repair the disease’s devastating effects — in fact, it will be his third.
“My neck was probably the worst," he says. "The pain was so great and they [rescheduled] my surgery, pushed it back another week, and I’d thought I’d put a bullet in my head, the pain was so bad.”
From his description of degenerative disc disease, it’s hard to imagine how anyone can live with such pain. “The surgery is absolutely necessary.” Foster concedes. “I can’t even stand for too long, the pain is too great.”
For a front-of-house (FOH) engineer, that’s a career nightmare. Most of Foster’s job when he’s not helping bands set up equipment and breaking it down is standing behind a soundboard for hours. A chair does little to provide relief.
Anyone who knows Foster’s dedication to music knows he’s a fighter and will attempt to work through pain, but even that would be counterproductive. What he needs is back surgery, and soon. Realizing this, Houston locals have come together to help Foster with more than just sympathetic well wishes or pats on the back for a speedy recovery.
To help offset surgery costs, Scout Bar stage manager Joshua Parson created a fundraiser in Foster's honor. Scheduled for Friday, February 24, The Reuben Foster Benefit Concert will feature local bands, including Born From Ruins, Driven With Insanity, Orr, ERASETHEVIRUS and Blood of an Outlaw.
The idea was a natural reaction to a close friend’s suffering, Parson says.
“I love that dude," he explains. "It is also a way for some of us [bands and musicians] to show a little love back his way.”
That love is spread throughout Houston’s metal scene. Asked what motivated him to want to perform at the benefit, Richie Sixx, bass player for ERASETHEVIRUS, replied, “[Foster is] well-respected with local bands, [he’s] not afraid to tell it like it is and he’s probably one of the most honest dudes I’ve ever met. He's not just not a sound guy; he puts all his heart and soul [into a] performance.”
This incredible gesture may not end at Scout Bar, either. “There’s some talk of another [benefit] on the north side, but that will be in the future and the details are still being worked out," Foster says.” But anyone thinking he or she may just skip the first benefit and wait for the second is missing the urgency of the situation. The sooner Foster recovers from surgery, the better for him, Scout Bar and local metal fans. For Foster, the help can’t come soon enough.
The Reuben Foster Benefit Concert will be held at Scout Bar, 18307 Egret Bay Boulevard in Clear Lake, on Friday, February 24. 18 and up, Doors open at 8 p.m. 18 and up; a $10 donation is requested.
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