|Kerrville Folk Festival - Jeffrey Glenn Tveraas|
It is Memorial day afternoon and I am hidden from the blazing rays of ol' Sol here in my apartment; quiet save the handiwork of David Wilcox keeping my loudspeakers vibrating in a most sonorous way. After a few days immersed in the Kerrville folk festival experience once again this music seems the only thing that quenches my aural thirst. I am still awash in the echoes of a fabulous weekend cut one day short by a performance obligation that I could not get out of. No matter, it was a good gig anyway and what better reason for returning to Austin could there be? For me, anyway?
Most of you have heard me wax eloquent about my last two visits to this extraordinary event and I hope you don't mind if I do so once again. This year was even better on many levels and if not for the 5 hours round-trip driving time I'd be back there right now. A weekend immersed in this incredible community is an experience that claims more of my heart and soul every time. I was happy there...really! Lots of emotions pass thru this psyche these days but real happiness is still quite elusive and rare. Just walking from the parking lot back into the central staging area on my way to meet up with my Austin amigos I could feel the walls crumbling all around me and emotions strong and real surging up and re-awakening me in a most glorious way.
As many of you know I am not the most gregarious person around - my personal totem morphs from Leo Lion to Cheshire Cat to Lone Wolf with alarming ease. That wonderful sense of community and kinship so many of us find in home and family, sometimes in church or social circles, has been a somewhat rare feeling for me, especially of late. So to feel an instant and deep sense of belonging and acceptance while ambling down the dusty main road with multitudes of Kerrverts all around me all sharing a similar sense of bliss tore thru my usual defenses like a 7-yr. old thru a sand castle. It is the closest thing to coming home without actually returning home I've experienced. Perhaps this is why songs about coming home are so popular here but more on that later.
It's hot here but there's some cloud cover today so it's not oppressive as it can easily be out here in the Texas hill country where the brown outweighs the green 20 to 1. I hear a soundcheck from the main stage as I make my way from the immense parking lot to the camping area where I expect to find my compadres. I'm so comfortable right now that the siren call from that stage is easily ignored and the awareness of this surprised me. Past the continuous line of folks arriving in their vehicles with the greatest assortment of good-natured bumper stickers seen anywhere is the line of land sharks parked close to their hookups, canopies extended over circles of camp chairs and coolers, instruments and cases visible all around.
Soon I'm upon the Kerrville Kountry Store, a central place to meet, rehydrate, imbibe, nosh, ice down, commune, evacuate and shower. One of the first things you'll notice is that everyone here has a plastic mug hanging from a belt loop. There are no disposable cups offered here. If you want a beer or some soda or water it gets dispensed into your own mug very time. It reminds me of soldiers' dog tags - so ubiquitous and identifying at the same time. I wore mine proudly; with thousands of folks about using these mugs this cuts down on the amount of accumulating trash considerably. And it was a neat badge as well.
I found my friends right where I expected to. Well to be more precise, I found their tents right where I expected to. It took a while before anyone I knew made an appearance and soon all the regulars were buzzing about and we all seemed very happy to see one another. I was reacquainted with some folks I had met the year before and I was glad that someone reminded me of their names before I saw them - my lousy memory for names continues to erode with time and I feel surprised when I actually remember anyone's name at all anymore. I had a little while before the daily Ballad Tree was to start and I was to accompany Jim Patton in a tune if I got there in time. Since work was a ghost town on Friday between the E3 show in LA and it being the Friday of the Memorial day weekend there were few folks around so I was able to leave early enough to help out JP.
The Ballad Tree is a moderated song circle with a few invited guests and then 1.5 hours of names out of a hat for a chance to perform one original song for the hundreds of folks up there. Last year I tried twice waiting thru 2 hours each without getting picked to perform so I was glad to have a scheduled spot, even if it was to be a supporting player. Jim and Sherry (AKA Edge City) strummed and sang while I picked along getting a welcomed lead guitar break in the middle of the song that felt great and elicited a kind response from the crowd much to my surprise and delight - this rarely happens here 'cause it's all about the songwriting craft more than musicianship. I belonged. And the response to Jim's song was really good as well and I started flying just a little bit.
We listened to several others do their stuff and most of it was really good. It's surprising just how many good songwriters there are around. Not all of them are polished performers, these can be mutually exclusive pursuits but it's a real cut above when both attributes manifest themselves simultaneously. Then I got lucky, I heard my name called to do a song of my own. Since this is called the Ballad Tree and the guy just before me did an up-tempo song I selected "This Guy is Blue" and asked Sherry to harmonize with me. I was already hopped up from the first song so I just started and let it flow. Imagine hundreds of people, most of them peers and many of them naturally a bit competitive in this situation, on a sunny hilltop overlooking the entire festival valley and all silent and attentive to every little thing coming from your heart and hands.
Yeah...now multiply that four times and that's how I felt. For 3 1/2 minutes my song seemed to be all that mattered to those people. I know because I watched closely as I sang and I saw no conversations, only eyes looking back into mine as I invited them all into my world for a moment. They really listened, I was so flattered. This is the feeling I exist for. I don't remember the reaction afterwards, I never do when the magic strikes but I'm told it was quite good. Welcome home.
I'm flying higher now.
A little later Steve Brooks and I wander back to the main campground to rest a bit, reinvigorate and get ready for the main stage acts to begin. For many Kerrville attendees the nightlong litany of name acts is the biggest reason for attending. For many others they're a fine dessert to the main course of playing and listening to tunes at all the many campfires large and small. I belong to the latter sect. Of course hearing the high-priced spread on a great outdoor stage in a natural amphitheater with terrific sound is a lot of fun, especially when friends save you a seat in the third row. But for me the real treasure is all the musical connections made across song circles and personal connections made across otherwise all-too-many miles. I hear so many good songs and very few not-so-good ones that one could get a real inferiority complex quite easily if you weren't strong in your craft and ego. I know, I have felt it wash over me before many times. This time the waves broke earlier and didn't have the same impact on me. You're stronger when you're home.
As the sun faded below the hills I alternated listening to the great stage acts like JohnSmith, Steve Fromholtz and Carolyn Aiken and wandering around the multitude of craft shops and food purveyors that encircle the periphery of the amphitheater. Sometimes I would walk back to the campground to get a diet Mt. Dew from my cooler while listening to Robin from Atlanta chide me for not drinking water instead and see if I was missing any campfire music action. The song circles usually don't take shape until midnite when the main stage finally grows silent, then they go pretty much all night. Everywhere you wander save the specified "campground quiet sections" you will find guitars pickin', singers singin', mandolins ringin', fiddles bowin' and examples of all the do's and don't of songwriting craft exposed for all to examine and enjoy in a most festive manner. You simply won't believe just how damn many really good performers and songwriters there are all concentrated here, it's amazing. Moths to a flame I guess.
Many of the camps have been well established for many years and have well deserved reputations for atmosphere and types of entertainment they draw. Take Camp Stupid for example. Raucous, loud, libacous, bigtop tent, large song circle that most anyone can join and everyone from beginners to jaded veterans and all in-between make their presence know there. The song circle is so big it can be more than an hour before you get a turn so the turnover can be large. And here if you play you can drink for free. Hospitable bunch, aren't they? I stayed long enough to do two songs and play along on many others. There were some really incredible players and singer/songwriters in attendance and we had a fabulous time making the most of every song performed. As the sand flows further into the hourglass you come to understand how this place got its name. It can get pretty out there after a while. And after a few hours a change of scene seemed warranted. But where, I didn't know. So I made my way back to base to see what the others might be up to.
Here is where I ran into Juliet, a terrific performer from the northwest whom I had met both years previously and on who's face my eyes felt most comfortable and in who's songs I found mystery and intrigue locked inside a troubled heart. She was on her way to Camp Synchronicity, a place known for a more serious, subdued campfire with attentive and quiet listeners and experienced tunesmiths. We took our turns performing our tunes to a fine reception and of course I tried to find something musical to add to most everyone else's songs, unstoppable picker that I am. Before I knew it it was 4 am and I was getting quite tired all of a sudden. This is when I would usually crawl back to my tent and try to get some sack time.
I made a change this year. The last 2 years I camped out with all my amigos and had a difficult time thriving on virtually zero sleep and avoiding being washed down the gully during the ever-present maxi-thunderstorms that this festival seems to attract like mobile home park attracts tornadoes. So I took a motel room back in town, about 10 miles away. I never imagined I would feel such an overwhelming sense of separation that night at 4:AM as I walked 3/4 mi. to my RAV4 and headed to my ticky-tacky motel room. I was so happy feeling so connected to all this that it actually hurt to leave. I told myself this was crazy, it goes against the spirit of this whole place. Still I did get some real sleep and a hot shower the next morning but I couldn't wait to get back to the ranch.
I got back just in time for the first installment of the New Folk competition. This is where 32 "new" songwriters are selected thru demos to be invited to compete for a main stage spot the following year and a little cash and a lot of notoriety. Many great top acoustic performers made this rite of passage in the past. I auditioned last year and didn't make it and I somehow failed to audition this year. Ask my manager/therapist if you need to know why. Of the 32 I personally knew 2 who made it this year - Mike Austin and Karen Mal. They both gave excellent performances but they're in really good company. I would not want to be a judge this year, the vast majority of the new folkers were simply excellent. I would have been nervous to have been included among them. I was very proud of my friends. I don't know who has won the competition but there weren't many who IMHO wouldn't have deserved to win anyway. I will be sure to audition next year. After all, what's one more potential disappointment on a pile this big?
Something else was going on here too. It took me by surprise and I'm still not sure how or why but an awful lot of people I only kinda knew on sight (and some I didn't know at all) remembered me by name and seemed genuinely happy to see and hear me again and I was told that I was being asked for by name at several campfires. Evidently my presence is beginning to make a small mark in the Kerrville community (either that or my checks all bounced). There's that connection thing again...it's just so strong for me here, I want very much to stay and forget about my job and everything else and just be my ol' musical self here in the quiet valley. Well, as they say, if wishes were horses...
I skipped the Ballad Tree this day, I felt like I had my shot and besides it was getting quite sunny and hot and lately this drains my strength like Kryptonite so a little rest and talk was called for until the evening show. Saturday night brought Bill Morrissey, Ian Moore, Sally Fingerett and the Goose Creek Symphony (who were simply amazing!). I missed some of the main stage action meeting and playing with more new musical friends that came by and by now my dogs were really starting to bark quite loudly. Another reason that contributed to my good feelings is that I was so active all day and night here - walking, playing, listening, chatting left little time for eating and I was so happy I didn't miss it. So I was feeling great emotionally and physically, another great reason to stay here. Case in point: Here it is a day off and I have nothing better to do than stay in my apartment and compose this while sitting on my butt listening to music and drinking various beverages to ward off the heat. I could be back there but with the distance and work manana it simply wasn't prudent to return. Still...
Back to Saturday night. As the echoes of the GC Symphony faded into the hillsides the unmistakable flashes of lightning made their presence known from the SW and experienced Kerrverts know this means only one thing - we're all gonna get real wet real soon. I was making the rounds to all the campfires and song circles I was aware of and found little action to be had. Camp Cuisine had a very small circle spearheaded by Steve Gillette ("Darcy Farrow" and a real strong Kerrvert). Alone there was no way I was getting into this circle and I was out to play so I kept wandering. The other songcircles were not up to speed as of yet. The biggest action at the time was directly under one of the very few streetlamps - a favorite gathering place for street performers to find a hungry audience and tonight was no exception.
The lightning was getting stronger and my common sense was urging me to get to my car which was parked all-too far away and get back to the room before the deluge arrived. I hemmed and hawed hoping to find a good reason to stay but in the end my CS won out and guitar in hand I started my long trek on aching feet to sanctuary before the sky made good on its warning. As I passed the main entry point several volunteers called out to me to play them a song. Seems that they've been on duty for hours without any music and although I was in a bit of a hurry I hadn't played much this night so I grabbed my Guild out of my case and did a quick tune that drew all within earshot and if there was no downpour coming I could have had a fine little concert happening. It felt strangely good to play for these (mostly) younger folks who were here for different reasons than I and my peers and they were generous with their response. I wanted to stay but I had to go.
I made it back to my car just as the rain started falling. Before I made it back to my room the skies opened up and water fell in buckets. It lasted about 35 minutes and then stopped as I faded into the sleep of the truly weary and happy. I would have given almost anything for a foot massage right then. A pair of bright eyes looking back at me would have gone a long way too.
I checked out Sunday morning and got back to Kerrville in time for breakfast with Bruce and Liz Rouse and the multitude of their friends. This is a ritual I wouldn't want to miss. One must sing for their breakfast and they know the cream of the crop since they run one of the best house concert series here in the Austin area. They greeted me like a long lost son and once again I was home. I heard some great songs that morning over bagels and coffee and there was no shortage of pretty faces to distract me. Maybe sometime I'll make some real connection with someone here. Maybe.
Then it was time for the second installment of the New Folk Competition. I had time to take in only a couple of performers before I had to get back on the road in order to get home, get my PA gear and get setup for my early evening gig back in Austin with Danny Santos and Edge City. Luckily my good friend Karen Mal was on second and I got to hear her most excellent presentation of two terrific songs despite a small case of nerves. I got to take several pictures during her mini-set. The crowd response to her performance was massive and I felt so happy for her and kinda proud as well. She's a total sweetheart and her star is definitely on the rise.
I just had time to say goodbye to Judy and her friend and leave. Judy is an old friend from San Diego who came to Kerrville this year partly because of my last two reports on what a great time I had there. It was good to reconnect with an old friend and they both seemed to be having a great time. They too were quite impressed with young Ms. Mal as well as the whole shebang. And seeing an old friend among all my new ones really completed the circle.
Tomorrow brings a new albeit somewhat shorter workweek and an overwhelming sense of the same old same old. My weekend is just a warm memory, a pleasant jumble of notes and faces all encompassed within a candy-coated shell that melts in my mind, not in my hands. I have tried to tell you how good it feels to be a small part of all this and not just an observer (which wouldn't be bad either), I hope I've succeeded. The Kerrville Festival continues on for another 2 weeks and there's a very good chance I will return to soak up more of of this potent brew. It's a bit of a drive but it's also a year until it comes around again. Several friends are in for the duration and I can tell their lives are all the better for it.
So I'm back in my apartment with my music and movies, massive home theatre and digital recording computer setup - a true musical geek bachelor pad. Here I have all my things familiar and meaningful - the stuff of my life. Also a blank answering machine, an unfulfilled telephone, an email account full old 3-day old spam and a TV that gets watched by my eyes only. My legs are stiff and my feet ache and the larder is empty.
It is Memorial day afternoon and I am hidden from the fading rays of ol' Sol here in my apartment; quiet save the handiwork of Loudon Wainwright III keeping my loudspeakers vibrating in a most revealing way. You have no idea how much I miss being home right now... -- Those who cannot hear the music think the dancers are insane...
Jeffrye Glenn Tveraas
- a singular tunesmith
|RETURN TO INDEX PAGE|
© Copyright 2004 C-U-S
Web Designer Steve Apple