Hiding Out at the Kerrville Festival Kerrville WE WERE SOMEWHERE between Fredericksburg and Kerrville whirring past peach stands and clusters of Mexican hat, golden wave, and firewheels. The Hill Country was sucking us in as it did the Johnsons, the Buntons, and everybody since. “You know, white boys can’t control it,” Boy George and Culture Club crooned on the tape. “You know, white boys never hold it.” I thought of settlers bolting into this country across the ninety-eighth meridian. “These were men who fled the furnishing merchant,” Robert Caro has written, “who furnished the farmer with supplies and clothing for the year on credit, and the crop lien, which the merchant took on the farmer’s cotton to make sure he ‘paid out’ the debt. And they fled the eroded, gullied, worn-out, used-up land of the Old South.” In the Hill Country they found lush meadows of stirrup high grass and low mountains rising into a clear, clean, sapphire blue sky. The lies in your eyes, the depth of your lust Is more than distraction .. . You know I’m not crazy. We sped through Kerrville, deeper into the seductive hills and valleys. Then the highway narrowed and rolled off one of the hills, flattening out straight as if in a river valley, and we were there. I pulled off onto the dirt road entrance of Quiet Valley Ranch. The 4 o’clock sun still burned high and hot in the cloudless sky. And though the ranch had opened only six hours earlier, already the hills and valley were patched with multi-colored tents of various shapes and thermodynamic theories. I hit the stop button and cut off Boy George mid-sentence: How am I supposed to throw questions I cannot answer? . . . I’ll be gone before you know. If I cry to be told, give me .. . Lyman Grant teaches English at Austin Community College and is editing with William A. Owens the collected letters of Roy Bedichek. By Lyman Grant Quiet Valley, a fifty-acre ranch nine miles south of Kerrville on Highway 16, is owned by Rod and Nancylee Kennedy. There each year on the two weekends surrounding Memorial Day, they present the Kerrville Folk Festival, now in its twelfth year as one of the best folk festivals in the United States. Each year Kerrville, as we usually call it, features nationally known folk singers, popular Texas performers, and unknown, fledgling singers and songwriters. This year among over sixty acts, the Kennedys presented Peter Yarrow, Bob Gibson, Utah Phillips, and Rosalie Sorrels along with Texas favorites Alvin Crow, Gary P. Nunn, Marcia Ball, Ray Wylie Hubbard, and Guy Clark. In other years Odetta, Jimmy Driftwood, Mance Lipscomb, Willis Allen Ramsey, Rusty Weir, B. W. Stevenson, Michael Murphey, Jerry Jeff Walker, and Willie Nelson have played. At the center of the festival is what Rod Kennedy calls his “Kerrville Family.” This family of friends has been with Kerrville for most of its twelve years, many of them going back even further. Included in the family are Yarrow, Nunn, Murphey, Stevenson, along with Bobby Bridger, Allen Damron, Bill and Bonnie Hearne, Nanci Griffith, Steve Fromholz, Carolyn Hester, David Amram, and several others with less familiar names. It also includes scores of volunteers, who year after year donate their time to everything from building fences and selling ice to providing and operating the sound system. However, it is not only for music that people come to Kerrville. They may, having become city dwellers, be trying to return to their roots or simply are searching for peace and quiet and cornraderie. They are probably reaffirming certain neglected values. For instance, Sue Ferguson of Kerrville, a short, grayhaired nurse, comes because the festival is one place that unabashedly proclaims its idealistic view of a world where people can be warm, intimate, and compassionate. Almost everyone who attends becomes a convert, even Kennedy, who began the festival to make money. Because of what the festival came to mean to him, in 1974 he cashed in all his assets from his Austin radio and producing businesses and bought the ranch and persevered through the difficulties of 1975-1977, when six of nine concerts received two to ten inches of rain and put him a couple of hundred thousand dollars in debt. In 1972, a month after the first festival, Kennedy was quoted as saying, “I think people need to get the rust out of their pipes. This festival did that for a lot of people. I learned to love and accept people through being with great artists like these who try to express their feelings in their work. . . . The sharing and the love . . . brought about the beginning of some genuine human relationships.” ONCE IN THE GATE I headed straight to last year’s campsite, high on the hillside, in the rocks, the mesquite, the blooming Texas thistle, all of which prevent other campers from crowding too close, from crisscrossing tent stakes. It was a choice spot, but two young women from Houston had already claimed it. We reconciled ourselves to a pretty area further up the hill, and, claiming as much ground as possible, we pitched our tent and ten feet away tied our tarp in a cluster of mesquite. It wasn’t long before the music of Catsby Jones, the first performer, began mixing with the rhythm of tent stakes being coerced into the rocky soil. Another two performers would play before we could cook our tacos on the camp stove, clean up, and walk the five or so acres to the stage. This was a practice we would continue for the remaining seven evening concerts, only two of which would I see in their entirely. Most often I would miss the first performer, who began in the blazing six o’clock heat and the seventh and final performer who often walked on stage after one o’clock. When one praises Kerrville, one might go on about the Hill Country’s natural beauty and the pure sensual pleasure of guzzling beer in the ninety-plus sun; 18 AUGUST 5, 1983
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