For Citizen Potawatomi Nation member Kevin “Haystack” Foster, music is a way of life. His love began at an early age, fueled by his musically talented dad and grandfather. At 10 years old, Foster heard a J.D. Crowe & The New South record, which inspired him to learn the fiddle. He has since expanded his skillset to also include the mandolin, guitar, banjo, Dobro, keyboard and bass.
“You know, more tools in your toolbox, the more jobs you can do,” Foster said, then laughed.
He grew up in the tight-knit community of Bridge Creek, Oklahoma, where he attended bluegrass events with family, competing, jamming and sharing the stage every chance he could.
After high school, he became involved in the Norman music scene and performed regularly at The Deli on Campus Corner near the University of Oklahoma, where he connected with Bryon White and Gabe Marshall of the Red Dirt band The Damn Quails.
“I first joined The Damn Quails when I was fresh off the farm. I think I was only 20,” Foster said. The group brought him under their wings, showing the ins and outs of being a full-time musician.
The Damn Quails’ front man, White, also gave Foster the nickname “Haystack,” inspired by Worldwide Wrestling Entertainment wrestler Haystack Calhoun. The nickname quickly spread across the Oklahoma music scene and beyond.
“I had nothing to do with it, but it has just taken off,” he said. “I’ll meet people, tell them, ‘Hi, my name is Kevin.’ Then someone will come up and say, ‘Oh Haystack, we need you over here,’ and they’ll be like, ‘Oh my gosh! You’re Haystack?’ So, it’s turned into a thing now. It’s definitely caught fire — I don’t think I could get rid of it if I wanted to.”
Although Foster no longer performs with The Damn Quails, he currently plays and sings background vocals in country musician Sunny Sweeny’s band. In early spring 2020, he completed at tour across the Midwest with Courtney Patton. Before the tour, he played in Jason Eady’s band — who is also Patton’s husband — for several years. And most recently, Foster formed a bluegrass group called The Turnbacks with his friend and fellow Oklahoma musician Dillion Sampson.
Life as a troubadour
Foster’s music allows him to travel and see more of the world than most other 26-year-olds. Although he is often gone from his home and family in Oklahoma for weeks or months at a time, the passion remains.
“Just the love for doing it — that keeps me going in a big way. I can still just pick up a guitar and sit at home and play, and it not feel like work,” he said.
Sweeney’s music style varies greatly from the Red Dirt and Texas country groups Foster has played with in the past, but he enjoys the opportunity to broaden his horizons.
“It’s less singer-songwriter and more honky-tonk kind of country music,” Foster said. “It’s definitely a transition, but it’s getting me back to playing more straight-up country and western, Nashville fiddle. I needed something new — something a little different.”
Foster is a Wilmette family descendant, and learning about his Native heritage began years before music.
“I was probably 7 or 8 when I started going to the powwow and everything,” he said.
Living life on the road can make it difficult for Foster to attend CPN events like Family Reunion Festival, but he has interest to learn more about his Potawatomi heritage and the musical roots of Potawatomi culture.
“I’ve felt like I’ve been pulled away from it a little bit, but I’d like to get back into it,” he said. “It feels good to be active again and possibly lead to more things.
“Music — it’s one of the greatest things on the planet. It can really help people out. I mean, as far as expressing themselves, having an outlet to go to. It’s a good distraction from the world for a lot of people these days.”
“I really want to be the best that’s ever done this, as far as a sidemen go,” he said. “I wouldn’t say its competition necessarily, but I definitely have a goal to be the best at whatever instrument I play.”
Foster hopes he can find a connection between his Potawatomi heritage and musical talents as well as create lasting change.
“I’d like to help to somehow further music education and make an impact somehow. Do something different that no one’s done, or find a way to separate myself from other players that have come before me,” he said.
While he prefers performing live, Foster wants to eventually retire from the stage and focus more attention on working the studio circuit, putting his mark on every record he can.
“I’ve always thought people who talk about immortality and people searching for immortality all throughout history, what better way to immortalize yourself than through art?” Foster said. “I guess that’s a little extreme, but that’s probably the ultimate goal.”
Check out “Haystack” on the following albums: Out of the Birdcage by The Damn Quails, I Travel On by Jason Eady, Fairplay Hotel by Buffalo Rogers, Kyle Nix’s Lightning on the Mountain & Other Short Stories and Zach Aaron’s record set to release sometime this year called Fill Dirt Wanted. Find information on Sunny Sweeney at sunnysweeney.com, and stay up to date on Foster by following his Instagram @haystackfoster56.