Kerrville Folk Festival Review
40th Annual – Kerrville, TX – May 26th to June 12, 2011
Since arriving in Texas in 1980 the Kerrville Folk Festival has been on our Bucket List as a must attend Texas music festival because we had heard that it is the best music festival in Texas and I’m pleased to say we finally made it and we enjoyed it so much it will now become an annual event. If you like folk and Americana music, the Kerrville Folk Festival is world renown, the longest running festival of it’s kind, and clearly one of the best music festivals in Texas. Kerrville offers music of many styles including traditional folk, bluegrass, acoustic rock, blues, country, jazz, and Americana. The common thread is songwriting and the focus of the festival is to promote emerging artists while giving the audience exposure to both new and recognized, seasoned talent.
It’s 18 days of camping, lots of good times, excellent music from over 100 of some of the best singer songwriters in the United States, and plenty of very talented festival attendees singin’, pickin’, and playin’ in the campgrounds or song circles from noon to sun rise. Over the 18 days you’ll have an opportunity to meet some of the 25,000 to 35,000 music lovers who attend this Texas music festival and most likely see them again the following year. During the week, the crowds are much smaller providing for a very intimate setting at each of the stages with true music lovers. Kerrville Folk Festival is one of North America’s most beloved and respected songwriters gatherings. If you like music, good times, camping, and song circles, then you need to add the Kerrville Folk Festival to your calendar now!
The Kerrville Folk Festival Stages
For the last 40 years the Kerrville Folk Festival has been held on Quiet Valley Ranch which is about 7 miles south of Kerrville. The Ranch is 50 acres in the heart of the Texas Hill Country. During the music festival, in and amongst the rolling hills and under the trees are 25 acres dedicated to tent and RV camping, music stages, and an area set up for food and arts and crafts vendors. You’ll find music just about anywhere you walk on the property, but the festival performers entertain to a very attentive audiences on the:
- Main Stage – a large stage at the bottom of a gently sloping hill covered with wooden benches and plenty of open area for your lawn chairs or blankets. If there is a “headliner stage,” this is it. This stage is home to performers from around the world and the music kicks off at 7 PM during the first four days of the festival and then again on the two following Friday, Saturday, and Sundays.
- Threadgill Theater – this is a much smaller and more intimate covered, but open air, music venue with several rows of bench seating and 4 stone wall terraces for lawn chairs. The music starts at 7 PM each evening when there is no music on the Main Stage. This is a fantastic place to listen to some outstanding music during which you won’t find anyone talking, texting, or jabbering on their cell phone – the attendees are here for the music! The Threadgill Theater is also home to:
- several workshops held throughout the 18 days
- 5 different children’s concerts
- other special events like the concert put on by the talented volunteer staff, an in the round concert, and the University songwriter finalists opportunity to show their talent
- The Ballard Tree on Chapel Hill – before the music starts on the Main Stage, from 3 to 5 PM, its song sharing time at the Ballard Tree where a famous host (Butch Hancock, Guy Forsyth, Justin Ruth, Buddy Mondlock, David Wilcox, Jonathan Byrd and several others in 2011) kick it off with a song or two of theirs and then Festival attendees get to play one of their songs for a very attentive audience
Texas & Tennessee Campfire Stage – a small group of songwriters get to sing one of the songs under a stately oak tree with a small circle of bench seats and some infamous singer songwriters will critique it and offer suggestions for improvement
Campsite Stages – this is the biggest stage of all with 25 acres of very talented Festival attendees pickin’ and playin’ at all hours around their campsite
The Kerrville Folk Festival Music Lineup
Wow – what a fantastic line-up of some of the best songwriters from Texas and around the United States. During the 18 days there are over 100 performers on the main stages, excellent music in the campgrounds, and the sounds of music or singing just about everywhere you walk. Some of the headliners for the 2011 40th Annual Kerrville Folk Festival included: Cheryl Wheeler, Steel Wheels, Suzy Bogguss, Judy Collins, Ellis Paul, Michael Hearne, Marcia Ball, Limpopo, David Amram, Chris Chandler, Trout Fishing in America, 3 Penny Acre, plus lots of excellent Texas singer songwriters like Butch Hancock, Billy Bright Trio, Slaid Cleaves, Terri Hendrix, Jimmy LaFave, Eliza Gilkysen, Ray Wylie Hubbard, Asleep at the Wheel, Austin Lounge Lizards, Sara Hickman, and more.. You can take a look at the line-up on the Kerrville Folk Festival Website. Unfortunately, we had a commitment during the first four days of the Festival and we were only able to stay for the next four days of music – we won’t make that mistake again next year – so we missed a lot of the headliners and several of our favorites. We did get to listen to:
- Monday Night
- Mary Gauthier – Nashville, TN
- Patrice Pike – Austin, TX
- Eric Taylor – Weimar, TX
- Steve James – Austin, TX
- Randy Rogers & Wade Bowen – San Marcos, TX
- Tuesday Night – a tribute to the music venue Anderson Fair in Houston
- Eric Taylor – Weimar, TX
- Greg Klyma – Cheektowaga, NY
- Ken Gaines – Houston, TX
- Don Sanders – Houston, TX
- Anderson Fair Movie – “For the Sake of the Song”
- Wednesday Night
- Two hours with Michael Smith joined by Karen Mal- Chicago, IL
- Thursday Night
- Annie Wenz – Pine Island, FL
- Small Potatoes – `Chicago, IL
- Ronny Cox – Sherman Oaks, CA
Every Night – after the music stopped on the stages, we immediately started meandering through the campgrounds to listen to some excellent music by some campers who if discovered could probably be playing one the main Festival stages. The campground music may have been a favorite for me! An amazingly talented group of singer songwriters.
Camping at Kerrville Folk Festival
Quiet Valley Ranch has 25 acres of rolling treed terrain that is dedicated to camping and by the end of the first day of the Festival, there is very little of those acres that’s not covered with tents of all shapes and forms as well as a variety of other interesting things to camp in from $300,000 motorhomes to vintage travel trailers to old hippie VW buses to converted school buses plus tee-pees, lean-tos, and a blanket on a bed of straw! There are several full hook-up RV sites but they are usually reserved more than a year in advance and 30 water and electric spaces for smaller trailers or RVs. Tent and sleeper vehicles like vans or pickups with camper shells can camp for $20 for the week. RV sites with water and electric are $25 to $35 per night. Generators are not allowed in the campground – they disturb the music. If the RV sites are full, across the street from the entrance to the Festival is a large parking area in what is normally a pasture where you can park RVs (and run generators) for a one time fee of $20. There are showers and restrooms in the campground and food, draft beer, soft drinks, and ice are also available. You’ll most likely find a tree to set up under, but be prepared, it can get a tad hot and dusty in the campground – but who cares!
I was talking to a Festival fan who told me about the “Kerrville Land Rush” which happens the weekend before the Festival starts. Hordes of campers arrive the night before (which creates an opportunity for music and good times) so that they will be one of the first in line to grab their “wooden stake” and rush in to stake out their campsite for the 18 days during the festival. Several groups of music fans have been doing this for several years and they have formed “camps” with a variety of interesting names like: Camp Bayou Love, Fork in the Road, Camp Duck Tape, Camp Knuckleheads, Leopard Lounge, Camp Somewhere Else, Camp Nashbill, and more. Most of the staked out campsites are comprised of several things to sleep in (tents, tee-pees, campers, hammocks, converted school buses, and lots more) and a common cooking and gathering area for music and fun. It’s a blast to walk through the campground to check out the various camps as well as pull up a seat and join in or listen to the music.
Some of the camps have been coming to the Festival since it’s beginning and have established a pecking order or reputation for good food, great campfire music, or good times. Most of the camps will happily welcome you to pull up a chair, break out your instrument, and join the song circle. Some will offer you a bite of food, a sip of whiskey or tequila, a cold beer or water. I was amazed at the quality, variety, and awesome music that we heard around the campsites. Fantastic voices, excellent harmonizing, unbelievable pickin’, and some very good original songs. At each site we heard some combination of a variety of instruments including harmonicas, fiddles, guitars, banjos, tambourines, bongos, drums, spoons, flutes, and even a guy using his suitcase as a bass drum which created a unique and interesting sound. I was also amazed how a complete stranger could walk up, break out an instrument, and join in – creating some fantastic music and singing that sounded like a band that’s been playing together for years! And the music lasts from around noon to the wee hours of the morning. I ask one musician how they stayed up so late and the response was “you’ve got to sleep from 6 AM to noon when you won’t miss much and you’ll be ready to go all night!” The music in the campground may have been a highlight – just wish I had been able to take that musicians advice – I was pooped by 2 AM and had to retire to the motorhome or my snoring would have ruined the ambiance around the song circle.
Kerrville Folk Festival Food, Arts, and Crafts
On weekends, on a small hill overlooking the Threadgill Stage are over 70 vendors selling a variety of arts and crafts in the Crafts Village. As you meander through Crafts Village, listing to the main stage music, you’ll find a wide variety of crafts including jewelry, clothing, paintings, healing teas, ear cuffs, candles, hippie kid clothing, rope sandals, fashion hats, carvings, musical instruments, metal sculptures, and lots more. Plus you can get a massage or have your face painted or hair braided or get a tattoo or a tarot card reading. :Lots of very interesting stuff being sold by some very talented craftsmen.
During your stay at the Kerrville Folk Festival you won’t go hungry or thirsty. On the weekends in Crafts Village you can buy several varieties of cold beer (a real bargain – $3 to fill your large souvenir Festival mug or one of your own cups or steins), wine, and sodas.
You’ll have several choices for food from loaded spuds to BBQ, chicken wraps to chicken curry, hot dogs to burgers and fires, plus popcorn, roasted nuts, peach cobbler, and ice cream. For breakfast there’s coffee, cinnamon rolls, breakfast tacos, and more. The Southwest Burger with jalapeno bead and hatch chili was so good we had it three days in a row!
I’m not sure what the rules are about bringing your beer or drinks to the stage area – but it’s not a problem in the campground. We do know that you can’t bring cans or bottles into the stage areas but you’re allowed to pour it into a stein or mug of some kind. I did see some people with very small coolers and most everyone had a mug of some kind.
Kerrville Folk Festival Music Fans
The Kerrville Folk Festival is a family friendly event and you find toddlers to teenagers plus a mix of younger folks and some real hippies from the 60’s. This festival reminds me of some of the folk festivals we used to attend in the late 60’s with Joan Baez, Bob Dylan, Pete Seeger, Peter Paul & Mary, Judy Collins, and more – you’ll see lots of tie dye shirts, long flowing skirts, long hair, hula hoops, corn rows, interesting head covers, and occasionally you’ll get a whiff of the funny cigarette that Willie loves. It seems that everyone who comes to this Festival is dedicated to, and serious about, music. During the performances, you can usually hear a pin drop. I’d guess that one of every five festival fans is carrying or has some type of musical instrument and a large percentage of them are talented singer songwriters waiting to be discovered.
Kerrville Folk Festival Activities
Kerrville Folk Festival is much more that just a lot of excellent singer songwriters playing for an enthusiastic group of music lovers, its’ about good times, camaraderie, promoting and encouraging new talent, camping, arts and crafts, good grub, and much more. In addition to main stage music at scheduled times during the 18 days of the Festival, you’ll find:
Annual Sunday folk song services on Chapel Hill overlooking the meadows of Quiet Valley Ranch
A blood drive
Kids-ville which is a fun place for Kerr-kids and their parents to learn, play, and sing plus enjoy art projects, music classes, theater activities, nature classes, and children’s concerts with some of the best like Sara Hickman, Small Potatoes, Trout Fishing in America, and lots more
Each Saturday of the Festival there is a 26 mile bike ride through the Hill Country which is open to all attendees
One day Guadalupe River Canoe Trips ($20 per adult) are held every Friday during the Festival
the Texas Folk Music Foundation Silent Auction benefits several worthy causes like the Teen Music Camp, New Folk Songwriting Contest, and Songwriter School
a number of Professional Development Programs for Teachers to help them earn continuing education credit
It seems that one of the missions of the festival, it’s foundation, and supporters and sponsors is to encourage, develop, and promote new, want-t-be, and up and coming singer songwriters. Some of the events during the festival that help with that include:
Texas & Tennessee Song Circle where world famous Steve Gillette and other famous singers and musicians gather each afternoon under a big oak tree in a campfire style setting to listen to and critique new songs from 8 singer songwriters a day
song writing winners from competitions held at several Texas Universities (Tech, A&M, UT, North Texas, Texas State University) get to showcase their talent
32 of the Winners of the 40th Annual Competition For Emerging Songwriters will get to perform on the Threadgill Theater stage for their chance to be selected as one of six New Folk Winners plus some regional performers are selected to sing one of their songs at the Ballad Tree
Music Law is a panel discussion that is free to anyone interested in discussing the legal and business issues (copy write law, recording agreements, distribution, etc.) faced by songwriters and performers
The three day 31st Annual Songwriters School is where faculty (Rick Beresford, Dr. Dick Goodwin, Terri Hendrix, Lloyd Maines, Vance Gilbert, and Tom Kimmel) provide songwriters a chance to focus on creative possibilities, music exploration, structure, and writing
Three day Roots/Blues Workshop is 20 hours of learning the basics to the fine points of roots and blues music
Each day under the Ballard Tree on Chapel Hill songwriters from the Festival audience have a chance to share one of their songs with an appreciative crowd of listeners
Free Partial Capo Workshop where attendees can learn use of the standard, Drop-D, and Short-Cut capos in a variety of positions and participants have an opportunity to showcase one song that they’ve adapted to include partial capo techniques
Our thanks and congratulations to a job well done go out to the hundreds of volunteers who help make this one of the best festivals of the year. I know the attendees appreciate the job well done by the parking lot and gate attendants, the potty patrol crew, the recycling and garbage collection team, the stage hands, the sound crew, the talented songwriting mentors and instructors, and many many more without whom the Kerrville Folk Festival would not have survived for 40 years! And a special thanks to Dalis for all the hats she wears as MC, talent selection, sponsor and media relations.