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.

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