2002 Kerrville Ramblings

Kerrville Folk Festival - Kerrville Ramblings - It Can Be This Way Always

Kerrville Folk Festival 2002 - Rachel Bissex - The Magic of Kerrville 1
2002 Reports
May 23rd - June 9th



Hi friends,
Here's where I've been... information on the Vermont Town Tour coming soon.

Imagine if you will a ranch in the Hill country of Texas –north of San Antonio, west of Austin by about an hour each – a place with hookups for dozens of R.V.’s, with cold communal outdoor showers and rows of outhouses. A place where hundreds of tents are pitched close together in the meadow where the relentless sun beats down all day, or under the trees with their precious shade. Teepees and school buses are home to many of the campers.Imagine whole temporary kitchens set up under tarps, complete with three-baysinks and all the tools and condiments a chef could imagine. Imagine the hardscrabble roads, uneven and dusty, leading from one end of the ranch to the other. Imagine the heat – unbearable most days, and long lines at the KerrTree store for a beer or an avocado sandwich. Imagine in the middle of the night a thunder and lightening storm, complete with hail, coming through and soaking everything, turning the roads into mud. Imagine spiders, fire ants, scorpions, six to eight-inch walking sticks, and of course chiggers – invisible tiny creatures that crawl up your leg and under your skin, to itch and annoy for weeks.

Why would anyone come to such a place?

Imagine going to sleep, in a tent with a sweet breeze coming through, to laughter, the sound of singing, of guitars strumming. Imagine looking up and seeing more stars than you’ve ever seen before. On the nights ofstorms, the lightening show on the horizon; creative jamming sparked by being“caught” under a big tarp with a bunch of other folks. Imagine a songwriter playing a brand new song for friends and strangers, with everyone singing harmony before it’s over. Imagine the friendships that are forged over years of this gathering, of the memories and the relationships that will never be forgotten. Imagine the mutual respect forged for each other as traveling troubadors. Imagine the luxury of days or weeks, no deadlines, no email, no place to go other than the tent, the shower, the river, the camp next door.

This is the world of the Kerrville Folk Festival, founded by Rod & Nanci Lee Kennedy and Peter Yarrow thirty-one years ago. [Editor's Note: The founders were actually Rod, Nancy, and Allen Wayne Damron.] Over an eighteen-day period, beginning with the Thursday before Memorial Day, and simply known as "Kerrville" (the name of the nearest town), this festival is a Mecca for songwriters all over the country, and some from foreign lands.

On the weekends there are full nights of stellar music on the main stage, five acts a night. The outdoor theatre holds maybe two to three thousand people, with vendors in a pavilion up at the back of the hill. Everything from smoothies to barbecue, veggie wraps, local wine and the Shiner Bock beer are sold for consumption, and then there are artisans’ booths with pretty dresses, jewelry, hats, and lots of other stuff.

One of the highlights of the festival are always the NewFolk concerts, in which thirty-two songwriters (out of about six hundred) have been selected to present two songs, and six are selected out of those to win some cash and other prizes. Best of all these six appear again for a full half hour on the main stage the following week. All the regulars take these “KerrVirgins” into their hearts, helping them wend their way through the unique culture that is Kerrville.

Many folks come just for one concert, to hear their favorite performer on the main stage, which hosts lots of Texas favorites along with a healthy dose of northerners. The sound is perfect and the breeze begins when the sun goes down. Rod Kennedy carefully selects the musicians and programs the evening to flow just right. But the magic of Kerrville lives also in the campgrounds.

If you’re a performing songwriter, on a typical night after you’ve been serenaded by the main stage performances until midnight or so, you strap on your guitar, get ready for the cooler air with a wrap or some real shoes, and walk in the darkness from one song circle to the next. Camp Stupid (backwards S) is welcoming to all, with a house drum set and a full bar. Everyone there is named Bob. Camp Nashville is more like a family gathering, harder for new folks to break through, because it’s only once a year these friends get together. Camp SingKerrNicity has the gourmet chefs, a fun welcoming energy and a guitar rack for thirty or forty guitars, safely tucked under the tarp in case of rain. Camp Cuisine is one of more established circles, way under the trees by the creek. You need an invitation to play there, and the quality of the songs is top notch. Camp Coho is made up of old friends, many of whom are not musicians, but fans who really appreciate and encourage the music. The Crow’s Nest is situated at the top of a pretty good climb, and there is usually a beautiful fire, and the only place to be (except perhaps your own tent) when the sun comes up. Sometimes there’s someone there to teach a Cherokee morning song. These are just a few of the many camps set up each year around the ranch.

In these song circles your insecurities can come to the surface; you’re hearing amazing songwriters, brilliant songs. How can you measure up? If you’re open to it, by the end of your stay you realize you don’t have to measure up, your peers are encouraging you, not judging you. You are your own worst critic. As you relax into the bosom of Kerrville, hearing just the line you needed to hear, the universal and inexplicable magic of a song touches you in just the right spot to make the tears stream down your face.

Imagine my skipping heart at having been asked to perform on the Main stage this year, with a full band and all the privileges of the VIP performers. Imagine my full heart as I was welcomed in to this world, given a sweet place to sleep, and lots of unconditional love for the week I was there. Imagine my breaking heart as I left these friends, old and new, as they would continue on for another week of song and special friendships.

I’ve been having trouble making the transition back into my “real” life. Waking up hoping there’s a song in the distance, but it’s just the mowers in my suburban neighborhood. Although I’m happy to be back in Vermont with my family, I don’t think I will ever be able to miss another one of these gatherings. Even the heat and the bugs are part of the memory of this special past week, where the friendships are priceless, the music inspirational. All will remain with me for the rest of my life.


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