“He carries it with him,
Wherever he goes.
He carries it with him,
More than he knows.”
— Larry Murante
I am still so filled up and bubbling over with people that I don’t know what to do with myself. Beautiful, incredible people from Kerrville Folk Festival…beautiful wonderful old friends at Annual Conference…just lots of experiences rattling around in the brain over these past three weeks. It’s a lot to take in, really.
Got to go to Kerrville for the first time in two years. I suppose that makes it three calendar years that have passed since I have seen some of these friends. In previous years, I have written long, quite verbose, summaries of my time there. I’m not quite sure how long this one will be. I’ll just stop when I get finished.
Last year, I didn’t get to go because Dennise had just had a pretty major surgery. Two years ago? I can’t for the life of me remember why, but there was some apparently crucial reason to miss. Who knows, really? Anyway, It’s been a long time.
Coming back, though, was like riding a bike. Even on my first drive down the hill toward “Camp Nashbill,” I passed several friends on the dusty main ranch road, and had to stop and say hi. Somehow, Austin Kessler even remembered that it’d been two years. (Nice to be remembered…)
More than anyone else at the Ranch, it was good to see all the regulars at Camp Nashbill. And it was amazing to see our camp this year. We were a greatly expanded camp. It was sort of like we had our own suburbs. Bill, our King, was there. So was JP “Jalepeño” Schwartz.
He, “Weird” Harold Stevens, and Paul Porter had done “landrush” for us all. And they did a fantastic job. Paul brought a HUGE kitchen set-up, and was justly awarded “Most Overprepared” by the Kerrville staff. He got an actual certificate. Kid you not.
Ross and Sharon Wise were there, as was Teresa Morris. Tom and Linda were there for a few days, but headed to another trip out west, if memory serves. Perhaps the greatest additions to our camp the past five years have been Judi Sawyer and Melanie Schaffner, who have now both begun bringing their own new folks. Which is a good thing. It seems to me a camp always need to be bringing in new folks. As such, Grace Pettis camped with us. She’d been there the past few years, but she was a Columbus Discovery for me this year, via Judi.
Mel brought Meg Braun and Karyn Oliver, from NYC and Baltimore, respectively. What *great* additions they were. They’re both incredible songwriters, and wonderful people. And if you just stumbled on our camp, you woulda thought they’d been with us for years, they fit in so well. Meg has a new CD and some really fine songs worth hearing. Karyn also has a fairly new CD, and some even newer songs that are fantastic. What an amazing voice and person. Emily Pickrell camped nearby us, and it was great to get to know her too.
We had a couple of mainstage performers camping with us this year, and that made things very very cool. Joe Jencks and Jaime Michaels both pitched their tents with us, and are now official Nashbillians, whenever they wish to be. It was very very nice having them around too. Id’ known Jaime for years, and it was great to have his tent right next to mine. Nice to be with him as he got ready for his big, mainstage debut!
I’d also met Joe a few years back, when he played a SFFF set at Kerrville, but it was brief meeting. We got a much better change to hear songs, and share stories. We apparently have quite a bit in common, spirituality-wise, in some fun ways, and it was great to share the time. Joe’s new CD is incredible, btw.
Another very cool change was how we connected with our next-door neighbors at “Camp Nashville.” There was just a lot of very nice back and forth between the two camps this year….as if it was one large family, really. Very very nice feeling.
It’s hard to describe how great the festival was for me this year. Days of filling up a very dry spiritual/artistic aquifer. Reconnecting with old friends I hadn’t seen in a while. It was great to see old friends like Erik Balkey and Eric Schwartz.
I love those guys. I noted Balkey taking a special interest in the New Folk Winners this year, walking them around to other camps, making sure they got heard lots of places. He’s such a great guy.
And Schwartz. Believe it or not, Eric and I always have the BEST conversations about stuff. Yes, he’s an avowed agnostic and I’m a minister. But that hardly seems to matter. We can get into some pretty deep stuff pretty quickly.
For example, one day I walked up on Eric having a conversation about (among other things) heaven with a mutual friend of ours. We immediately got into a little back and forth. Not about heaven per se, but about the whole idea of “spirituality,” or “soul,” or whatever you want to call it…and whether it even exists. Eric got in my face a little bit. I pushed back a little too. Very good natured. It’s what we do.
Anyway, as I walked off, the mutual friend whispered to Schwartz, “Eric…did you know that guy is a MINISTER?!”
Implying, of course, that Eric should be horrified by, or at least more careful with, what he’d been saying to me.
To which Eric replied, “Yeah, I know. I played at his church service once.”
Which is absolutely true. You can’t make up stuff like that.
Several years ago, I wrote a long, and perhaps tortured, essay about the balancing act between being a minister and musician and about having a foot in both of these worlds. I suppose most of it still applies. But there was also something this year at Kerrville that felt more….relaxed…more real….more *whole* for me.
I can’t quite put my finger on it. I’m almost sure it has to be that I’m more comfortable in my own skin than I used to be. More relieved that, like everybody else, I can be who I am at Kerrville, be among friends, and take back my portion of healing for the road ahead.
I don’t know, I can’t really describe it. I was less frantic this year. Less feeling the need to do *everything,* or be everywhere, and just content to be where ever it was I was….to let happen what would happen and to be with whom I would be with.
And what happened was that an amazing number of great experiences just “came” my way. Had dozens of good conversations with dozens of other old friends…and new ones too.
I also met several folks in the “real world” that I’d only ever seen online before the festival: Judy Hoover…who has a common love affair with Santa Cruz guitars, Bryan McFarland…who stopped by for a few minutes to soak in all in, and Larry Murante…who I’ve been an email friend with for three or four years. Nice to finally meet him in the real world. What great songs. (I thought he was gonna be a New Folk winner…) His song, which titles this blog, is *the* song that has rattled in my head the longest since I’ve been home.
Dennise and Maria came down for one night. That was great. I went to Austin for Theo’s first birthday, and I brought them back with me to the ranch. We told Maria that she could stay up as late as she wanted. Which meant, of course, that she was ready to crash about 11 pm….really just as the party was getting started.
Had to take them back to the airport the next day, so it wasn’t a long stay for them. But Maria got her first taste of the festival. Maybe next year they can come for a long weekend.
The really crazy thing this year was just how many people kept stopping by our little camp. Day and night, we had folks dropping by to pay Bill a visit, or just to sit and play for a while. I literally stayed at our camp all but two nights, our circles were that good.
(An afternoon circle with John Vezner)
A week or so ago, I was going to write long entries on all of those circles. Then, I realized that enough time had passed and I couldn’t really remember everybody I’d seen. So, below are some short impressions about this year’s festival. So, here goes.
Great memories that stay with me from this year’s festival:
Carnal night. Sorry, I can’t really explain it, except to say that there was Olympic-style judging of the songs. Steve Brooks, Annie Benjamin and Todd Hoke all came by. (It felt like old home week…) So did Sonja, Rad (the accordian guy), all our camper/players, two bass players, several lead players, and two flutes! It was crazy-good stuff. The night had an energy that I’m not sure we could possibly describe in words.
Camp Stupid. Incredible circle at Camp Stupid one night. I mean, incredible. Several folks commented (including me) that is was perhaps their favorite “Stupid Circle” ever. Hans York, Larry Murante, Anne Feeney, Megan McLaughlin, and, of course, Ken Gaines. Really a great night. (and others I am sure I am forgetting…)
Joe Jenck’s last night. (which was also mine…) He invited everybody and their dog to come to our camp. TONS of folks came by. I won’t remember them all…very sorry. It was a great send-off for Joe. It was a HUGE circle. What a pleasure having him in camp with us.
Jaime Michaels. How cool to be able to celebrate his mainstage debut, and to have him camp with us.
Coho Rainstorm. Rode out a pretty good storm at Coho, which interrupted “Irish Night.” For years, my own assumption is that Coho is, hands down, the best place to ride out a storm.
Saw the rain sweep across the south meadow, and toward the Coho shelter. It was amazing. Lot’s of scurrying musicians once the rain started, though.
First light up on Chapel Hill. With Joe J, Karyn O, and JP….as the light began to come up on my last morning there.
Schwartz playing one last song on Drew Nelson‘s guitar. He played this new song which, if you haven’t heard, you should. As I’ve often said, if you only think Eric’s a funny guy, you’re not really paying attention. BTW, Drew built his own guitar this last year. Kind of like a Jedi building his own lightsaber, I suppose. (Just like that, in Drew’s case…) It’s a beautiful guitar.
(Drew and Schwartz)
Tequila shot with Ellis Paul at the Rouses’. The night of his set, he came by there after the show, they broke out a bottle that was ceremonially passed around, and a nice circle broke out. (Which I left, actually, to go to “Political Song Night.”) I left as he and Hans York started trading songs on their matching Santa Cruz’s.
Rain Songs at Nashbill. We had a nice rain storm circle, where we plowed through about 40 or 50 “rain songs” around the Camp Nashbill circle…all while *real* rain fell around us, and some serious lightening flashed in every direction. Actually, I didn’t think this circle would happen…I thought the rain would be too severe, and I got well-deserved grief about it too. We had matching rain ponchos, provided to us by the ever-prepared Paul Porter and the Texas Storytellers Group. You have not really lived until you’ve sung songs in the rain like that.
Kristin DeWitt. Just nice to see her. We’ve been Facebook friends this past year, and seen each other for years at the ranch. Just nice to have real-world face-time. Man. Like everybody else on the planet, I just love the way she sings. Nice to meet Cheryl Duckett too, and to close that loop of “people I really should have met a long time ago.”
The Rouses. Really loved seeing the Rouses. They are such special people in my heart, and it was very very cool to see the New Folk Camp there, how it’s expanded and how great everything there was.
Todd Hoke. I loved seeing Todd. And Meg. Been missing him here in Texas, even as I know he’s been where he needs to be.
MIAs noticed by me: Michael and Kendra. Saw Michael briefly. It was not enough. Breadman and Ellen. A serious black hole in the solar system. The Dalziel’s, Dave Stoddard, and Dave Potts…their absences noted by me and by others.
Having been gone for two years myself, I have this theory that perhaps Kerrville is like the island on “LOST” and everybody who’s ever been there is really still there. (I know, too deep for a Friday afternoon…)
There were other experiences, equally memorable, not noted here. If I didn’t mention you in this blog, please forgive the omission. (And if I got some facts wrong, or you’d like to add to what’s here, please leave a comment here at the blog).
Sufficed to say, it was my favorite festival yet. Hands down. As I said, not quite sure why, but it simply felt more *family-like,* more relaxed. I heard others say that too. Is that because we’re more relaxed? Because everyone is? Who knows. It was great though.
This afternoon, as I finished up this entry (after fits and starts the past few weeks…) I got a little sad and nostalgic. Truth is, I could use a little more Kerrville in the every-day world. Wouldn’t mind that a bit, and I am totally open to any tips/suggestions for how that can happen.
But I also remembered this great lyric from Larry’s song:
“He carries it with him, wherever he goes….he carries it with him, more than he knows.”
It’s so true. Every moment, really, if I just stop to remember.