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Camping at Kerrville Folk Festival: Welcome Home

Much more adept at setting up a tent in my 50s than I was in my 30s, this was a pretty sweet “home” over the Memorial Day weekend.

When we left off, I’d reposted a few of last year’s more popular entries on camping to gear up for Memorial Day weekend and the unofficial start of summer. I hope it was a beauty for all of you — it was for me.

Memorial Day weekend is an annual opportunity for me to merge my passion for music with the great outdoors, and I made the pilgrimage to the Kerrville Folk Festival to get my hippie-chick on.

In full force.

Kerrville: 1995

The festival is celebrating its 41st year, but my first trip to Kerrville was back in 1995. I’d just started my work as a performing songwriter, and I’d been selected as a finalist in the festival’s New Folk Competition. It was my first trip to Texas, and I was lucky to have my old music partner Steve fly down with me as my accompanist.

I’d been in NYC for about a decade by this point, and I wore the mantle of your hard-boiled, no-nonsense, seriously cynical city gal. I could navigate mass transit like nobody’s business, hail a cab in the worst weather, and handle encounters with any number of urban nuts with ease and aplomb.

But I had never been camping.

So I borrowed a big old pole tent big enough for 8 people and figured “how hard could it be?”

I was sooooo unprepared.

When you enter Kerrville’s campgrounds, you’re greeted with a sweet, painted wooden sign that says “Welcome Home.” You’re greeted that way at the gate, too, generally by a fit young ‘un with major dreadlocks and a HUGE smile. Strangers wave and hug you for no reason. It’s a tie-dyed paradise, with completely chilled out souls ages 8 months to 80 years.

As a hard-boiled New Yorker back in ’95, I was wholly suspicious of this. My first response, which I will never forget, was, “What the fuck is this? Where’s the scam here?” I wondered: Is this what a cult looks like? Should I get the next flight out of here? I felt less safe there than I did walking the streets of a pre-Giuliani Hell’s Kitchen. I’m pretty sure Steve felt the same way.

That was nuts, of course, but it goes to show how tough it can be to get out of your own comfort zone.

I’d never felt anything as hot as that Texas afternoon. There was no relief from the sun and the sweat rolled out of every pore. We found a place to set up our campsite, and I quickly realized I had no idea how to erect that tent. The poles made no sense. Nothing made any sense. I hadn’t brought the right tools with me, so I tried to hammer the tent stakes into the hard Texas ground with a rock.

The 1996 class of New Folk winners. You’ll find me fit and tan in the back row, second from the right.

All the while, our new “neighbors” were quietly watching the city folk make a mess of things. One by one, tools, helping hands, and cold beers were offered. Slowly but surely, that tent went up, a campfire got lit, and friendships were forged. Within a few hours, my citified armor had thoroughly melted.

Later that evening, when I strolled into the expanse of the main stage to hear a night of music and crickets, I was overwhelmed by the expanse of the sky, the beauty of the sunset, and the happiness of everyone there. I thought it was the most special place I’d ever been. I was a goner. And after midnight, I learned what really makes the festival so special: song circles around the campfires. Hundreds of players, thousands of songs, and a ridiculous number of them damned good.

I didn’t win the New Folk Competition in 1995, but I came back to compete in 1996 and nailed it. By the time that second trip was over, I think I knew in my bones I’d be back often.

Kerrville: 2012

I’m a camper now, kiddos, and I revel in pitching a tent (see photo at the top of this post!). My great friend and fellow songwriter Katie Gosnell came out and shared it with me for a couple of nights. We had coolers full of great food, and we beat

That’s me on the right with this year’s tent buddy, my great friend and songwriter Katie Gosnell.

Connecting with friends was central to the weekend–friends I may only see once a year here, as well as friends I may see in Austin but often in haste or in passing.

Playing music is a core activity, of course, and we joined some superb song circles all day and night. Katie and I stayed up til 4:30 every morning playing music, talking, and even making s’mores. (No, they’re not on my diet, but it was a special occasion.)

It occurred to both of us on more than one occasion that camping is a sincerely great escape–and great escapes mean less doing, and more being.

That seems like an important distinction; we make infinite “to do” lists, but how man of us add the words “just be” to those lists? And how on earth can we find the mental bandwidth to Think Big Thoughts if we don’t unplug?

When you leave the festival campgrounds, there’s another painted wooden sign. This one says, “It can be this way always.”

Isn’t that wonderful?

My inner hippie chick was completely satisfied by my recent long weekend at the Kerrville Folk Festival, and I can’t recommend the experience highly enough to anyone who thinks they might enjoy camping + music + community.

And now… a scout wildlife note! I’d like to introduce you to two uninvited guests in the tent:

It’s not particularly pretty, but this is a garden variety wolf spider, about 2-1/2″ end to end. These babies actually do a nice job of eating unpleasant bugs and they don’t have a poisonous bite, so they do far more good than harm, in spite of appearances. Note that this little guy’s missing a leg!!

and…

I woke up Saturday morning, looked up at the top of the tent and saw this baby clinging to the tent netting. Scorpions in this part of TX aren’t lethal; I’ve heard their sting described as a really, really bad wasp sting. Still, I confess to being a bit freaked out, and was real happy when our “neighbor” Matt in the next tent was happy to help us capture it (it was a team effort). FYI, Matt insisted that we not kill the scorpion! He relocated it about 100 yards away. Personally, I believe this is what shoe soles were made for.

Finally, I thought I’d share a video that was shot by the wonderful Janet Hans who invited me to play a post-main stage full set at her Camp Sweetness and Light. Joining me was my buddy Brian Kalinec from Houston, TX. That guy is crazy cool. And check out how loud the crickets were!

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3 thoughts on “Camping at Kerrville Folk Festival: Welcome Home

  1. I’m hoping I really get some vacation time next year……..I REALLY….REALLLLLLLY wanna go to Kerrville just Once before I check out!! LOVE the Late Night “Lucky”!!!

    ≈Viking☼NeanderHAT≈

    ☼▼/;>)~ ☺

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