Thursday, June 17, 2010

The Kerrville Folk Festival: A Bubble of Magic in the Heart of Texas

Outside of Kerrville and about 4 miles away from Lucas’ house, lies Quiet Valley Ranch, a 20 acre campground that exists for itself throughout most of the year, and where several people maintain their residence. These residents do work exchange projects to live there for free and to receive free meals from the community kitchen. Many of them have landscaped the land surrounding their RV homes with terraced gardens climbing up the hillsides, swings that hang from the oak trees, and patios that wait for May to come along to fill their expanses with people.

When May comes along, QVR collaborates with the Texas Folk Music Foundation to host and facilitate the Kerrville Folk Festival, which lasts for 18 days, or longer for the die-hards. A week before the fest begins, the cars start lining up in the fire-ant infested fields that serve as parking lots, claiming their places in line for the Land Rush. The night before Land Rush is when the Folk Fest *really* begins, 5 days before the official beginning. People camp out in the parking lot, listening to the live performances that start this 3 week party, and buy the stakes that are used to claim their 10x10 camping site. At 10a.m. the next morning, the gates of the ranch are opened and Land Rush begins (by car to be fair to the elders). "Welcome Home" security says, as you pass through to the campgrounds.

Amidst the die-hard masses, Lucas and I drove into the campground to vie for the limited shady spots available. We were lucky enough to find a small spot nestled on the edge of the tree line. Grateful for the shade, we knew that the people who arrive after Land Rush usually have to settle for a spot in the middle of the meadows, in the direct sun that pounds it's heat from sunrise to sunset.

QVR quickly became a tent city. A lot of people come out for the entire festival, setting up tents, campers, RV’s, big outdoor kitchens in organized groups, and pop-up tents used to create shade and where song circles are held during the days and nights. People who have been coming here for years have their regular group camping spots that they claim every year. These camps have names such as: Camp Coho, Camp Coffee, Camp Duct Tape, Camp Secret, Camp Inertia, Merrville, Crow’s Nest, Sky High, The G Spot, and Woman Hollerin Camp (which I was officially indoctrinated into by hollerin "CAMP" as loud as I could). Lucas and I nestled our tent in between camps Coho and Coffee. Anytime we were hanging out at camp, we were surrounded by amazing music, able to hear even more song circles from further in the distance.

Started in 1972, KFF has grown and grown in size over the years. The festival draws some 30,000 people or more every year. Most of these people come for the evening performances where local, regional, state, national bigger names, and even international performers share their original and traditional music. Singer-songwriters, folk, blues, jazz, bluegrass, americana, and traditional Texan tunes. This year, the Indigo Girls were the headliners, bringing in more people in one night than any other night in the history of this festival. Other favorites of mine include: Band of Heathens, Big Wide Grin, Anthony daCosta, Susan Gibson, Terri Hendrix, Warren Hood, porterdavis, Raina Rose, KC Clifford, Shake Russell Trio, Brave Combo, and The Fire Ants. Just click on the band name and you will be taken to a page where you can listen to a sampling of their tunes! Enjoy!

Lucas’ mom, Vicky, and her husband H, arrive early every night and spread out bench cushions, 2nd row central, to claim space for family and friends to sit together. They tote in bags filled with wine, snacks, and dinner to gratiously share as we sit and enjoy the tunes. The music runs 7-12 on weekends and 7-9 on weekdays. At the back of the outdoor amplitheatre are vendor booths: food, beer, wine, original artisans, and imports.

But the real heart of the festival exists beyond these stage performances, after- hours in the campgrounds, where the public, the volunteering staff, and the musicians are all welcome. 800 volunteers help to make this event happen every year (compare to the 8 volunteers at Tashirat, and the 4000 volunteers at the Oregon Country Fair). In exchange for our work, we camp for free, see the stage performances for free, receive 2 free meals a day, free tea, free ice, a discount on beer, and 3 free massages and/or acupuncture treatments. Lucas works on the Cureville crew, where he gives these free massages to other staff members. I work in QC, quality control, where I help control the quality of festival operations. (OK, I am sworn to secrecy about the full nature of my job. If I were to tell you, I would have to erase your memory...tee hee).

Like I said, the life of the festival is in the campgrounds. Dozens of song circles day and night, where super talented musicians share their songs, welcome anyone to participate or to sit in the extra chairs to just listen. The music found here is often better than the stage performances. Singer-songwriters sharing original songs, strangers collaborating and jamming, and song writing circles where folks give and receive feedback on songs that are still in the works. Prodigy teenagers who blow you away with their talent, elders who have honed in their song writing skills, little name folks who have written songs for big name performers such as Brandi Carlisle, Calexico, and the Dixie Chicks. So, to come here as one who enjoys live music and appreciates true musical talent, it is a treat to walk the paths of the festival grounds at any hour and to stumble upon these song circles. Favorites of mine from the campgrounds include: Hendrikz McLeod, Squinto, The Blue Hit, Jack Wilson, deeMo, Lewis Childs, Johann Wagner, and Green Mountain Grass. And there were so many more who I never learned the names of.

I can only imagine what it is like to come to the Kerrville Folk Festival as a musician, where you can immerse yourself fully in helping to create the magic. You might become the music on a different level than is possible as an observer. It is thus no wonder that people travel from all over the country every year to live here for 18+ days, fully equipped with an elaborate temporary living setup. Yes, there is magic in this festival. The music is awesome. The people are warm, generous, welcoming, friendly, open, helpful, and curious. The setting among the green rolling hills is wonderfully beautiful.

There is definitly an Oregon Country Fair contingent here at the Folk Fest. Musicians and spectators alike, there are so many familiar faces here that I have seen at the Country Fair. It was a special treat to have my Portland friends Lisa and Lewis spend a long weekend at the Folk Fest, helping to create a bridge between my life here in Texas and my life in Portland. They have been coming to this event for a few years, as Lewis is a talented singer-songwriter himself (see his link above...Lewis Childs). It was fun to watch him participate in song circles, and wonderful to have the time to connect with Lisa on a deeper level than I ever had the chance to in Portland.

Lisa and Lewis arrived the night of the "Kerrnado": a powerfull storm that blew through Kerr county and was almost categorized as a Tornado. 70 mph winds that created a horizontal rain pattern. Crazy lightening. Thunder directly overhead. The storm knocked down so many big old trees in the area, electric poles, storefront signs, etc. and did quite a number on the Folk Fest campgrounds. Tents were ruined, awnings were torn away from RV's, and everything and everone were soaked. Luckily, Lucas and I had a dry place to spend the night, and a dryer to take our wet bedding and clothes to the next day.

In addition to the storm being called "Kerrnado", many aspects of the Kerrville Folk Fest have Kerrville influenced names....The Kerrtry Store (selling food and drinks), Staff Rekerrds (selling the music of staff memebers and hosting little shows after mainstage performances), Cureville (the healing arts center), Kerrvirgins (referring to people like me who are attending their first Folk Fest), Kerrverts (referring to people like me who have fallen in love with the Folk Fest and have converted to this way of life, hoping to return for years to come), and Kerrnames (referring to the names veteren Folk Fest goers are given, being called those names instead of their birthnames at the Fest).

It was interesting, and in some ways challenging, for me to come almost directly from Tashirat to KFF. While there were many general similarities between the two (living close to nature for an extended time, lots of walking, hot days, and volunteering with other good people to help create something magical), there were some drastic differences too. I came from a volunteer situation, lasting 5 weeks, in an international community where I had bountiful solitude. My existance there was quiet, peaceful, balanced, and intentional. The lifestyle focused on healthy eating and living, service, yoga and meditation, and detoxing. The KFF, a 3 week volunteer position, provides constant stimulation. Solitude is rare, and healthy living is definitely not integral. The focus is instead on the music, maintaining a state of sleep deprivation, and having a good time. Lucas and I joked that this was my time of re-toxing...the fast and furious reintroduction to my diet of chocolate, dairy, sugar, meat, white flour, soy, alcohol, second-hand smoke (man, these Texans sure are smokers!!) and a much lower percentage of fresh produce. All of this on top of a significant culmulative lack of sleep, it is no wonder that I had a few mood swings during the festival. These mood swings, and life itself, certainly gave me deep reflections of my self and the places in my self that are moving through growth. I am grateful that Lucas is so accepting, patient, and understanding, for he was the one who saw these mood swings. I am grateful that I had a house to escape to just down the road on nights when I desparately needed to be alone. I am grateful for the beautiful refreshing rivers where we swam in during the day to cut through the otherwise unbearable heat. I am grateful to be surrounded by the love of so many good people, so that here, similar to at Tashirat, I can heal in the love. I am grateful for the music and the musicians. And though I miss some of these aspects of the Fest, I am grateful to once again have the time and space I need to bring balance and health back into my daily life.

And meanwhile, during our absence, large interesting creatures took over the house we live in down the road.

Sunday, June 13, 2010

Dreams Really Do Come True In Mexico

One night during my stay at Tashirat, I had a dream of making a breakfast smoothie: rice, pumpkin seeds, sunflower seeds, chia seeds, almonds, honey, tahini, banana, guava, mango, cinnamon, and lime juice. When I woke up the next morning, I knew that I had all the ingredients and so made the same smoothie of my dreams. As I sipped my smoothie, a friend joked with me that, “Dreams really DO come true in Mexico!!”

I am so happy to say that this dream, as well as the Guadalajara courtyard déjà vu moment, aren’t the only dreams that came true for me in Mexico. A few weeks after leaving Tashirat, I have gained perspective and have had time to reflect on my time there. I went to Tashirat and Mexico expecting to have a certain experience, hoping that certain experiences would enrich me in certain ways. Everything that I hoped for was realized, and yet I received much more than I had expected from this southern adventure.

I received clarity about my life and answers to a lot of questions I have had about my path. I also received a lot more questions that need answering!

I received the joy and fulfillment that comes from giving to others.

I received the thrill of being immersed in a culture that was new to me, where I barely spoke the language, as well as the confidence that comes from gradually creating successful communications.

I received the amazing learning challenge of being pushed out of my comfort zone.

I received a wholly unexpected new level of confidence in my self.

I received a new level of self-sufficiency in traveling alone in a foreign country.

I received a decreased level of anxiety from gaining perspective and appreciation for the life I have been fortunate enough to be given…my upbringing, my family, my friends, my safety, my relative financial security (relative to Mexicans).

I received a deeper level of inner peace as I learned more to go with the flow of daily unexpected turns of events.

I received more patience with myself and others as we all go through the slow and sometimes painful process of self growth.

I received a deep sense of fulfillment from being a part of a cause I believe in and being able to see others benefit from the fruit of my actions.

I received a sense of wellbeing from being more connected to nature in my daily breathing life.

I received a fuller integration of yoga and meditation into the fabric of my life and my being.

I received joy from meeting and connecting with so many wonderful people: the Tashirat children and staff, the other volunteers, the people of Tepoztlan, and new friends.

I received inspiration from seeing how successfully others live on their own individualized paths.

I received the deep trust that I am on the right path, and that every step forward will bring me clarity about the next step forward.

I received the opportunities I needed to be more fully alive in the mystery.

At some point during my time at Tashirat, I learned to let go of my expectations. My priorities shifted from fulfilling my own agendas to helping in whatever ways were most needed by the community. And in doing so, what I really needed was fulfilled. There was so much work that needed to be done at Tashirat, and so few people to do the work. The staff were stretched thin, tired, yet always smiling and happy to do their work. I knew that none of the work I was given to do was trivial work; it was all essential to the workings of Tashirat and it all was for the benefit of the children, however indirectly.

What I had expected Tashirat to be like in many ways was different in reality. How the website portrayed the place was not exactly how I found it. Instead of being super strict and regimented, it was not. There was no one looking over my shoulder to make sure I was eating a certain way, attending yoga and meditation classes, and spending my free time well. I found that this was all up to me…that it was my responsibility to get the most of my experience at Tashirat. And it wasn’t hard to do… it was surprisingly easy to get up in the morning, excited for the day. There was a new-found purpose to my days, a purpose that I believed in. It was also up to me to make sure that I fulfill the number of work hours expected of me every day. And it was even up to me to seek out the wisdom of the staff. They are all very down to earth and warm people, not dogmatic or preachy at all about their beliefs. In fact, the only time I heard any of them speak about their spiritual beliefs was when I directly asked about them. Even then, they didn’t try to guide me, but tried to show me how to follow my own inner guidance. That, I appreciated.

It actually took me a couple of weeks to really understand my place at Tashirat, to not feel like an outsider anymore, but to feel like a part of the magic of the place. That integration I know came from my own personal transformations, becoming more open, more curious, more confident. And it came from choosing to participate in the spectrum of intentions of the place: showing up for yoga and meditation every day, working the full 6 hours, spending time with the children, eating really healthy, spending time in contemplation every day, and being intentional with my own self.

My time at Tashirat was at the end of the dry season. The paths were pure dust. Every step on the paths kicked up a cloud, coating my feet with a seemingly permanent layer of dirt that is only just now disappearing. The afternoons were so hot! And the rainy season was to begin soon. It felt like it was just around the corner, for at night the winds were starting to blow wild, winds that were flirtations of the rainstorms to come. The wind seemed to bring with it a new energy…one of magic and mystery, arriving to shake things up a little, reminiscent of the winds in the movie Chocolat. And finally, on May 15th, we had the first real rain of the season. Thunder, lightening, downpours. It was wonderful. I would love to see how the rains transform this dry landscape into a lush green paradise after several weeks of rain.

All of the other volunteers at Tashirat were wonderful colorful people. They were inspiring, creative, adventurous, and super nice. The first week and a half I spent at Tashirat, there was only one other volunteer there besides me. The volunteer complex was quiet and mellow. The dynamic constantly changed after that as new volunteers arrived, one by one, and as a few of them left. At the peak during my stay there were 8 volunteers total. Dinner times were when we would come together at the end of our work days, cook together, and share a meal around the small table in the common room. It was really fun to have people from all over the world sitting together, all with different accents, sharing stories from different adventurous lives.

(L to R: Me, Antares, Shyloh, Melody, Tine, Nimrod)

Saya, from Australia, volunteered at Tashirat for 3 months. She is an awesome cook, an inspiring traveler and WWOOFer, and a sweet friend. She went from Tashirat to work on a farm in southern Oregon, and just volunteered at the Bonaroo festival in Tennesse. Soon, she is planning on heading to Europe to work on more farms. Amy, from Portland, was only there for a few days, checking out Tashirat as a potential site for a yoga teacher training for the organization she works with in Portland: Street Yoga. Street Yoga teaches yoga to homeless youth, and is planning on doing trainings for teachers all over the world to work with orphans. She was a confident world traveler, inspiring and strong. Nicholas, from Tepoztlan, is like a renaissance man: talented and knowledgeable in so many areas, funny, and also a wide traveler. Antares, also from Mexico, is a returning volunteer to Tashirat. She had been there for a month earlier in the year, and had come back for a 2 month stay (though FB rumor has it that she might stay for a full year!). She is inspiring in her search of a deeper experience at Tashirat, in her curiosity, and in her desire to learn. Melody and Shyloh, a pregnant couple (6 months pregnant when they arrived) hail from Canada. They had driven from Canada, passing through Oregon in January while I was still there, passing through my neck of the woods in Texas in February right after I had arrived, and staying in Texas until a few weeks before they arrived in Tashirat, like me. It felt like we were on parallel paths that had eventually brought us to the same place. It was so nice to be able to share some of my birthing knowledge with them, giving them mini childbirth classes and answering their questions. Melody is artistic and strong in how she exists, experimental in how she cooks (and so good at it too…yum!), and fun to be around. Shyloh is a hard worker in the greenhouse and on the land, a sweet man, and can bust out a funky soulful spontaneous song. All of us volunteers used to joke about how Melody and Shyloh were the ones to ask if there was something we needed. They almost always had it. Their car contained so many random things….any spice you could want, a spice grinder, markers, paintbrushes, tape, rope, computer wires, everything. Unfortunately, their awesome car was stolen after they left Tashirat on their way to Guatemala where they are planning to land to have their baby.

Tine, from Germany, is a fun sprite. She is active, funny, and involved in so many things. Acrobatics and poi are two of her talents that she brought to Tashirat to share with the children. And her salads were a hit with the volunteers. She too is now en route to Guatemala.

Nimrod (neem-road), from Israel, brought joyful laughter, big smiles, and awesome music on the guitar. His sweet melodic songs became the soundtrack at the volunteer complex, like the breeze in the trees. He too is a traveler…having travelled for 3 months in Central America before Tashirat, he was planning to return to Guatemala as well. Toki, from Japan, is also a returning volunteer. She liked it so much at Tashirat that she decided to come back for 6 months. These 6 months are actually her trial period before she can become a staff member, as she hopes to. She is sweet, a fabulous cook, and obviously super dedicated to Tashirat.

My last days at Tashirat were a bustle of trying to finish up projects in the greenhouse and with the children, of completing the 2 gourds I had painted, and of recovering from my little stomach bug.

Antares took me on a walk through the neighboring country dirt roads that weaved through beautiful gated estates to The Mother Tree.

And my volunteer friends surprised me with an acrobatic display of appreciation, followed by my fabulous last night filled with delicious food and great conversation.

And I took in the magical sites of Tepoztlan as much as I could in the days before leaving Mexico. The ex-convent, turned archeological museum, with it's handpainted walls and archways and it's amazing views of the surrounding mountains, captured a new level of the beauty of this place:

The cathedral's historic seed murals made by the resident monks:

The market:

The nieve shops:

The food vendors; fresh made corn tortillas and quesadilla fillings:

I left Tashirat and Mexico knowing that I was returning again to the mystery, knowing that the inspiration and passion I tapped into during my trip also needs motivation to see it realized in my life. It is up to me to put into action the things that I have learned, it is up to me to not slip back into my old patterns of existing. I have realized that I thrive on change, however much I might avoid it. And so, I will allow change to be a regular part of my life, and I will create change as soon as stagnancy sets in by inviting movement and adventure more into my life. I will live a life that feels well lived, and be grateful for it. I will not sit in the rut beside the road and will not let limiting beliefs hold me back from really living. I will have trust in the path before me, and in my self.

I was sad to leave Tashirat. I know that there is more for me to experience and to give there, and that a longer stay would provide deeper levels of giving and receiving. I miss the simplicity of life there, intentional living with community, a healthy lifestyle that is inherent in every aspect of the community, the children, the feelings of calmness and flexibility and clarity and love radiating from everyone around me. I know I need to return someday soon to give more to the Tashirat community, to dream more dreams, and to live these dreams fully.