Kerrville Folk Festival 2015: The Show Must Go On!
Some version of the old adage “The Show Must Go On!“ came to mind on the Saturday night of Memorial Day weekend, the traditional kick-off date of the Kerrville Folk Festival since 1972, as the heavens opened and rainwater raced through Quiet Valley Ranch, the festival site. With the late afternoon announcement of the cancellation of the evening program on the main stage, campers scampered for whatever shelter they could find – tents or otherwise – while many were forced to pack it up and head for a hotel for the night. We, unfortunately, were sheepishly part of the latter crowd.
Yet, just as we settled in at the YO Hotel and started making plans for the next day’s music – the Children‘s program at 10:30 AM and New Folk at 1:00 PM – word by chance came our way that headliners Emmylou Harris and Rodney Crowell were not gonna let the rain stop the music!
Nestled in the back of the hotel lobby with the entire band of stand-up bass, accordion, pedal steel, and lead acoustic guitar, the duo sat in chairs and each strummed a six-string through a very intimate set of new tunes from their new record, The Traveling Kind. They also sang a lot of older popular Emmylou songs to an extremely appreciative, packed house of folk music lovers. Not only was the spontaneous show at the hotel a first for a Kerrville festival headliner, it was the ensemble’s first show together ever!
Distant thunder and lightening added a nice touch to the minimally amplified mix as did the drummer’s contribution – rather than hitting a snare, he brushed the hard cover of the restaurant menu to get the right sound throughout! And just as the rain sent festival-goers scattering in all directions, the earnest set seemed to pull them back together at just the right moment.
As much as anything the impromptu show highlighted much of what Kerrville is about: you gotta make the trip in order to catch a little magic and you also gotta be able to roll with the punches – weather or otherwise.
Surprisingly welcomed by sunny skies on Sunday, we first stopped at Kerrville Festival's Threadgill’s Theater for the Children’s program, featuring sets by Annie Wenz and later Joe Crookston, both multi-instrumentalists hailing originally from New York. Catering to the little ones, the performances are an under appreciated gem worth getting up early for by Kerrville standards (10:30 AM!). It's not that the mornings start early but the nights go really, really late at Kerrville. Bouncing back and forth between call and response, rhyming choruses and other fun crowd pleasers, the performances are usually somehow educational and suited for much more than just the kids. In keeping with the kids‘ theme, keep an eye out for Kidsville, the special arts and crafts area for youngsters, where performers sometimes drop in to teach the kids some song and dance during the festival.
In many ways the heart and soul of the festival, the New Folk Concerts, once again showcased talented, yet not necessarily always new, singer-songwriters from across the country. Here, the energy and excitement is palpable as each musician is given two songs to show their stuff and the folk music is touched with a combination of Americana, blue-grass, jazz, gospel, rock, country and blues.
Of special note (in this writers‘ humble opinion), out the more than 30 performers, a few stood out. Somerville MA‘s Amy Kucharik and her ukulele kinda stole the show on the second day with the light, upbeat sounds of her instrument and voice against the dark humor of her lyrics, giving the crowd a good chuckle. She was one of the six New Folk winners as was North Carolina’s Wes Collins, whose slower more straight forward acoustic numbers also resonated through the crowd. Closing out the event in mesmerizing fashion, Austin’s Chase Gassaway’s big, scratchy voice carried his pensive, atmospheric tunes, somehow almost calling to mind fellow Austinite Bob Schneider. Relax folk purists! The broad range of singer-songwriters is the spice of life at Kerrville.
Despite the water-logged Kennedy Outdoor Theater, the Main Stage evening performances went forward as scheduled on Sunday night. Joe Crookston pulled the crowd into the moment with slower, brooding numbers before lifting them with up tempo tunes and humorous banter in between songs. The same could be said for Texas native Ellis Delaney’s captivating voice and wise beyond her years insight. A previous New Folk winner, Ellis added funny, sometimes wacky chit chat between songs to her uninhibited, uplifting performance.
And yes, the show will indeed go on! Festivities over the second weekend (Friday, May 29 to Sunday, May 31) are highlighted by the New Folk winners concert circle on Saturday as well as by performances from Caroline Aiken, Tom Rush, Bill Carter and many more. The final weekend (Friday, June 5 to Sunday, June 7) brings headliners David Crosby, Ruthie Foster, Joe King Carrasco and much more. More info at the Kerrville Folk Festival Website.
In addition to the summertime Kerrville Folk Festival, keep an eye open for the next Kerrville Fall Music Festival on Labor Day weekend. Check out the Kerrville Folk Festival Website to learn more.