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The Music Beat: Musical Tent Utopia in TEXAS?!? - Jeanne Jasperse
Posted: Mon, Apr 01 2013, 11:38 PM

It starts with one tent and a guitar or three. Then another tent pops up across the meadow.

Then a camp pops up at another end of the meadow. Before you know it, every little scrub or droopy tree with a few leaves on it hovers over all kinds of camping contraptions. From VW micro buses to RVís worth several thousands of dollars to duct tape dwellings to simple hammocks and guitars ... lots and lots of guitars ... the festival has begun.

Iím going outside the state here this time to tell you about a place for musicians called the Kerrville Folk Festival. 18 days ... yep, 18 days of music in the hot Texas sun. Songwriters from all over the world gather in the Hill Country of Texas to celebrate songs. Oh, and to celebrate songwriters in particular.

Back in 1972, this guy named Rod Kennedy had an idea. Although he was a huge lover of jazz and classical music, he had eclectic tastes and decided to throw a three day festival in his hometown. It lasted for three days, and the main headliner was Willie Nelson, who lived about 30 miles away at the time, so it seemed to be a good fit.

At the same time, he thought it might be a good idea to start a songwriting contest with his good friend Peter Yarrow in order to promote folk music, and thus the New Folk songwriting contest began. There were 42 finalists, of which 6 winners were named. I think at the time, Mr. Kennedy had no idea what he had started.

Past winners of the New Folk competition recognized the talents of Steve Earle, Nanci Griffith, Lyle Lovett, and James McMurtry. The competition though is not the real reason behind the specialness of the festival. Itís the miracles that happen.

Itís the jam sessions underneath the one streetlight that go on until dawn. Itís the inspiration of hearing another writer work on a new song. Itís the surprise when you hear someone singing harmony to one of your songs and when you turn your head to see who it is, itís Peter Yarrow.

This is a ďLeave Your Ego at the GateĒ type of place. You never know who might be sitting next to you in a song circle, and thatís where the real magic kicks in.

When you first hit Quiet Valley Ranch, rule number one is to turn off your stereo. No canned music is allowed ... anywhere. Crickets and cicadas make up the background noises, but it kind of adds a certain feeling of ... well, like being on your back porch.

Songwriters sit in circles around campfires that are scattered all over the 60 acres. One year, a guy next to me asked if he could use my guitar to play a song since he was up next in the circle. Not knowing him and being new to the festival, I was kind of hesitant, but went ahead and handed it over. After singing a particularly funny song, he handed it back .... ďDo you know who that was?Ē asked a friend of mine. I had no idea it was Fred Kohler, writer of several number one hits and a co-writer with Shel Silverstein.

One night, a campfire was going pretty strong with a woman writer who was doing an impromptu recording session. Michelle Shocked and the Texas Campfire Tapes was born. This place just attracts talented writers like Texans to a good barbeque joint.

It is not uncommon either to see actor Ronny Cox wandering around with a guitar and Peter Yarrow is there every year without fail.

Past performers include Judy Collins, the Indigo Girls, Mary Chapin Carpenter, Janis Ian, and Peter, Paul and Mary.

So many stories of so many careers that have started at Kerrville have been chronicled in many books. Hot Jams and Cold Showers, Music From the Heart, I have even seen a masterís thesis that was written about Kerrville Folk Festival.

This year it runs from May 23 through June 9. For more information, their website is kerrvillefolkfestival.com. It is run now by the Texas Folk Music Foundation, a non-profit organization.

Oh, and donít forget your instrument if you plan on going. The rest will just fall into place.

ďWelcome HomeĒ says the sign at the front gate. It sure is. A little heaven on earth.

Jeanne Jasperse is a 25 year veteran of the Coffeehouse Radio Show on KKFI. You can reach her through kkfi.org or on Facebook.

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