I’m a day back from the Kerrville Folk Festival now. In previous years, I used to write long entries from the fest. I’d post videos, pics, wax philosophically and theologically about the experience. I would name-drop my songwriter friends, and those I wanted as my friends. I would, as I pretty much do most days in the real world, Facebook-overshare.
Perhaps you noticed, I didn’t really do that this year. I’ve got an emerging spiritual discipline at work within me that calls me to live within my own skin. To not worry about what others think of me, and to resist the temptation to either over-share or run about with rampant “FOMO.”
“Live in your skin, Eric….don’t live outside or beyond yourself…It’s enough…”
This is something I’m telling myself all the time these days, and it’s a kind of wakeful meditation that I practiced a lot this week. Little social media. NO news coverage.
Just…BE….just be present…just remember to not live outside my experience…
It was kinda awesome. Every year for the past several festivals, I come away saying “This was my favorite festival, ever.”
And that happened again this year.
But unlike years past, I’m not gonna overshare a ton of specific details about it. Let me just tell you the general impressions racing through my soul tonight…
I spent hours in song circles (an afternoon at Coho, most memorably) that stunned me when I realized the time that had passed. I thought it had only been a few minutes. But FIVE HOURS had passed.
I got the chance to sit with several small groups of the New Folk writers, and be wowed at their talent and passion.
I hugged the necks of dozens of friends, and got to feel the true sense of their joy to see me and my joy to see them.
I spent late nights at “Camp Jews Don’t Camp” and laughed until my belly hurt.
I heard a half dozen songs from writers I know and respect, and writers I just met, that moved me so deeply there were tears.
I sang songs in the rain with Coho, and huddled with my Nashbill Peeps in Paul and Susan’s trailer during the same storm. (Yes, I still have a little FOMO)
See, there I go, dropping names.
I just know that some of you know them, and that the context helps.
Anyway…continuing…I had deep conversations with a writer friend over HOW songs communicate….over what metaphor is and how we walk around, day to day, failing to realize that ALL language is metaphorical language, really….and how, whether you are writing a song, a sermon, or a speech, once you toss it out into the ether, what becomes of it has more to do with who’s listening than your own brilliance and control.
It keeps you humble.
This was a writer I’ve known of for a long time, but had never actually *talked* with, deeply. We were actually making coffee, and suddenly…. and I mean, in less than five minutes, we were talking communications theory at a level that would have made George Lakoff proud. It was was SO deep we apparently failed to realize that we were in the midst of making the worst pot of coffee in the history of the bean.
We didn’t care. It tasted good.
I played my song about my Dad a ton. And I was gratified that it broke open several conversations about family with men and women….people sharing their own struggles to live in their own skins with their parents and families. I think it was healing for them. I know it was for me.
I went up the hill one night in a specific quest to find Steve Fisher. Steve is not known to venture down into the meadow. So, as if I was hunting an Abino Rhinoceros, I went looking for him, and found him outside a trailer. We got to spend about an hour together.
I love to watch/listen to Steve sing. He’s a freaking brilliant writer. But I also love to watch Steve *listen* to songs. He looks like the Buddha when he does it. And then, he just leans his head back, with his eyes closed, and breathes a deep breath…like he’s drawing in the final essence of the waning song from the ether.
He played a song just for me that he wanted me to hear. It’s freaking amazing song. It’s genuinely haunting me now. I’ve listened to it about 20 times today.
I LOVE being haunted by good songs like this one. (More on this soon…)
I had perhaps a half dozen men —writer friends from around the country— who greeted me with…
“How are you, brother?”
I don’t have any biological brothers. Hell, there are very few men in my family at all, in any direction, and for multiple generations. So, to have these men call me “brother”….and to KNOW they mean it…I can’t really explain what that means to me. It’s very special.
I just soak it in with deep gratitude.
But that does bring up one final story.
It’s one that stuck with many of us who were there to experience it. A few nights ago, somewhere between 2:30 and 4:30 am (my SWAG) a young songwriter came by during a particularly awesome song circle at “Camp Jews Don’t Camp.”
If there was such a thing as a folk music “poser” he might have been one. Leather hat. Cool clothes. Beat up guitar. Requisite harmonica.
He said he had a song he wanted to sing us.
He was invited to sit with us, several times, but he didn’t want to. He was reminded that “circles” are what makes Kerrville, Kerrville. That made no difference to him. He was offered that he might be surprised to find he made friends by sitting down. He said he didn’t want to be in a circle, and didn’t want friends.
His presence inspired heated conversation for about 20 minutes after he left….and even the next morning around breakfast. I won’t recount it now. And I still maintain that we’ve probably thought a lot more about him than he did of us…
But more than once, somebody said “that kid has no idea what he’s missing.”
And that’s true.
And it’s also true you can’t make anybody eat from even the most scrumptious buffet.
But then, the next night, there was another circle. It was only a handful of us. Our Nashbill peeps…and four or five players. It was late. The regular Nashbill circle had broken up, the four or five players didn’t feel like being in the big circles still going. So, Teresa brought out some candles, and Jaime, Joe, Bruce, Jack and me played quiet songs under the stars, with the reflected faces of some of our dearest friends in the candlelight. It was beautiful…and peaceful…and “a moment.”
And somewhere in the midst of this, Verne Crawford walked up and sat down. (I’m not name-dropping…it has to do with the story…) Verne is a lovely old man with grey hair and beard….who looks like Santa Claus and is kinda like Kerrville’s Dumbledore.
So, he sat along in the quiet of the night with us.
And at a certain moment of quiet, after looking up in the sky, Verne said to all of us, “How lucky are WE that we get to do this?!”
Meaning…sit out under the stars at 3 am…with our friends…..listening to music.
I mean, he’s right. There are very few human beings in the entire world who get to do that. And it takes a special kind of crazy to do it year after year.
I thought about the Poser Kid and Verne. I thought about how one couldn’t, or wouldn’t, hear any suggestion as a kindness, or invitation to a richness beyond his wildest imagination…and another who understands what it means to be filthy rich in songs and friends…and was ridiculously glad just to SIT for hours and soak in all the beauty.
In our debates as to he existential meaning of this kid, I continued to assert that by the end of the week, the Poser Kid would sit down in a circle. Most of my friends seemed to think not. We should have taken bets, although I’m not there to see how it might yet turn out. I’m thinking I would have lost.
But although it’s not evidence of him sitting down, and while I’m pretty sure the kid doesn’t “get” it…I did happen to see him once more…and that has stayed with me too.
Two days later, sometime after dinner, about five of the New Folk folks were sitting out by the road of their camp. I was standing up, just listening to them. They were about to break up when up walked the Poser Kid….in exactly the same outfit I’d seen him in two nights before.
He had a flash of recognition for me from “Jews Don’t Camp Circle,” and gave me the “Sup” nod that guys give each other.
He asked them if he could play them a song. And, since they were about to break up anyway, they said, “Sure.”
They had no idea of any of the drama from the night before. I’m not sure he had any idea that they were about to break up anyway, and were probably feeling magnanimous.
So, he played his song. They folded up their chairs to leave, and headed back under their canopy. He stood there, readying to walk back up the hill. But first, he looked at me, moved toward me, offered me a hug, and said “Thanks, brother.”