Almost every year for the last dozen or so I’ve made an annual pilgrimage to the Kerrville Folk Festival, an eighteen-day long music festival in Kerrville, Texas. It’s holy ground for me. Hot, dusty, chigger-ridden, sweaty, holy ground.
There’s music on the stages each night and it’s wonderful, but the real magic happens in the middle of the night in the campground song circles.
It’s been said that New York City is less of a big city than a big pile of small towns. It’s natural for people to create small communities within big ones, and the Kerrville campgrounds make an excellent example.
Over the years some camps have become quite established, setting up in the same place each year and welcoming back a gradually evolving but cohesive bunch of friends. At night we sit in the centers of these camps and trade songs. Sometimes the songs are by beginners, sometimes by the performers who played on the main stage to thousands of people only a couple of hours before.
The camps have names and histories— Camp Calm, Camp Coho, Camp Cuisine, Camp Nashville. Many have horrible puns built in: Camp Bayou Love (say it out loud and listen for a Beatles song), Camp Decide, etc. My buddies Brian and Ellen have Camp Jews Don’t Camp (they’re Jewish, of course).
Our camp is called Camp SingKerrNicity.
We play music until the wee hours every night. Sometimes we watch the sunrise then go to sleep for the few hours that remain before tents are magically converted into solar ovens and we burst out of them gasping for air and water.
It’s good just to be in the Texas Hill Country this time of year, too, living outside and feeling the evening cool off just before the sun sets, noticing every puff of breeze in the hot afternoons. The wildflowers are gorgeous and the rivers cool enough to wake up your spirit, but warm enough to stay in for a while. The deer arc over the fences on our trips home from the river in the evenings, and the wildflowers are glorious.
And all of it is marinated in music. As I sit here in my tent writing this my friend Megan is playing a song in our camp a few feet away.
Over the years I’ve had the privilege of teaching workshops a couple of times, sitting in as a guest on lots of main stage performances, and doing a couple of my own, most recently this past Friday night.
There are thousands of people listening during the main stage sets on the weekends, and the sound system is beautiful and beautifully piloted. It’s pretty amazing to hit the low notes on Deadline and hear that bass kick out. I can almost see the shock waves ripple out over the audience. Good fun.
I try hard not to write music for critics, but for people. All the same, it’s affirming to get strong feedback from your peers, and that’s felt good these last few days.
(thanks to Neale Eckstein for this photo!)
I guess the sleep deprivation is good practice for my impending daddy-hood. I’ve been getting to spend some time with my friend Celia’s eight-month-old, too, and really enjoying that. He’s an incredibly sweet little guy, so he inspires only excitement.
I won’t get to come to Kerrville for at least the next two years, so I’m taking a long drink of it this year, staying for about ten days. This has been a nourishing and challenging community for me, both artistically and personally, and I’m deeply grateful for it. A few days of sleep-deprived song slinging remain, and I’m soaking it up for all I’m worth.