Monday May 26, 2008
by Ben Taylor
The Kerrville Folk Festival on Memorial Day was hotter and “drier than the Texas sand” as the words in Gary P. Nunn’s London Homesick Blues go- but there was some periodic cloud cover and the music was great.
Music is not the only attraction in this small ranch in a quite valley named The Quiet Valley Ranch on Highway 16 south of Kerrville, Texas. It is as much a great family outing for many with camping and cooking out as it is a music festival. This relaxed atmosphere is one of music fans with professional and amateur musicians mingling together around the campfires at night sharing their songs and music.
The Memorial Day schedule included tributes to America’s military service men and women without being blatantly pro or anti-war. Although this event tends toward the “Woodstock” tie-die era, most attendees and musicians were there to share and enjoy music and not to make political statements.
I attended with freelance health writer Tony Isaacs, a regular contributor to the Silver-Bulletin e-News Magazine, CureZone and Natural Health News, and Dan Owens, an old music roadie who spent years traveling with such as Ray Price and Darryl McCall. Between these two fellows, one will get an education in health and country music.
Our first stop was at the Blues Project held at the Threadgill Theater where sets were performed by Stefan George, Harry Bodine, and Rob Roy Parnell, proving that the Kerrville ‘Folk’ Festival is more than simply Peter, Paul and Mary music, but can also be cutting edge blues.
Tony, Dan, and I spend the next two hours relaxing in our Texas Flag folding chairs at the Ballad Tree listening to a dozen or so singer/songwriters performing either solo or in duet in the open-air of Chapel Hill, aptly named for it wooden cross and long dead oak tree against the backdrop of the Texas Hill-Country.
Amy Speace, from Nashville, Tennessee, did a great job keeping the music flowing and presenting an interesting series of trivia word games to select the order of who would be performing. Although there were a handful of very good singers and writers, hands down- the most memorable performance was the duet of Lisa Housman and Dave Falk named ‘Sweet Wednesday’, from Brookline, Massachusetts. They should be on the main amphitheatre stage (The Rod Kennedy Outdoor Theater) in “primetime”. (http://www.sweetwednesday.com )
The mild disappointment was the small number of ‘arts and crafts’ booths, especially health related, which- for me- add more flavor and variety to the overall festival atmosphere. But that small number had a wide range from clothes, to jewelry, to massage and acupuncture, aromatherapy and even handmade guitars.
Palmer McLean has a booth at which she features her own and others ‘hand made’ gifts of candles, bath products and jewelry. Ten percent of every sale is donated to the charity of the buyer’s choice and she personally champions The Arc of the Capital Area, an organization committed to helping those with developmental disabilities achieve independence. This cause resonates with me more so because my daughter Jessica has spent her first year as a teacher teaching ‘developmentally challenged children’ in the public schools of Kerrville and a close friend, Renee Amison, also teaches such children in the public schools. Palmer’s website is http://www.crafts4causes.com and you can reach her at (521) 627-5244.
Another of my favorite booths was that of Fry Musical Instruments where Alvin Fry, proprietor and craftsman, displays some of the most exquisite guitars any musician could ever ‘lust’ for. He even permitted me to strum his $9,000.00 handmade gut-string guitar. Willie-if you’re listening- maybe it’s time to retire the well worn ‘lady’ you’re hugging on the back cover of this year’s Kerrville Folk Festival program and bring a fresh ‘woman’ into your life. Understand I’m speaking strictly about musical instruments here. If anyone sees Willie and wants to get the ‘message’ to him, Alvin can be reached at (214) 282-4341, Dallas, Texas.
One of the busiest places at the festival, especially with near double digit heat, is the AOMA (Academy of Oriental Medicine at Austin) who will treat you for whatever ails you with acupuncture, massage, herbs, and nutrition. It was here that I personally got ‘bonged’ by a girl named Jenny with a double set of ‘bongers’. These simple devices are semi-firm rubber balls on a stick, with which the muscles of your body are gently and then firmly ‘drummed’. It didn’t take very many repetitions on my neck and shoulder muscles to turn the rest of me into a bowl of jell-o. (http://www.aoma.edu )
Our day was topped off at the Rod Kennedy Outdoor Theater set in a natural amphitheatre ringed by the arts, crafts and food booths on the south end of the ranch. A band of very young musicians (This gives away my age since very young to me is somewhere between 20-30 years old.) calling themselves The Belleville Outfit from Austin, Texas kicked off the evening’s show with a great performance of a jazzy, bluegrassy, bluesy and Texas swing style of music with incredible vocals, fiddle, standup bass and piano.
They were followed by Jon Vezner (Nashville, Tennessee), and Peppino D’Agostino from Italy via California. In 2007 Peppino received Guitar Player magazine ‘Reader’s Choice Award For Best Acoustic Guitarist’. His medley of ‘spaghetti western’ movie soundtracks, including The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly and several others, blew us all away.
Albert and Gage, a band headed by the husband and wife team of Mr. Albert and Ms. Gage (Sorry, I didn’t get their first names.) were extraordinary with her vocals and his piano playing.
The night’s finale was a ‘reunion’ of the Lost Gonzo Band, founded in 1973, of Gary P. Nunn, Bob Livingston, John Inmon, Kelly Dunn, Tomas Ramirez, Donny Dolan, Lloyd Maines and more over the years. They backed some of the greatest Texas artists of all time, such as Jerry Jeff Walker, Michael Murphey, and Ray Wylie Hubbard. This bunch of ‘old men’ (Please Mr. Nunn, Livingston, Dolan, Maines, etc., don’t get pissed, my tongue is firmly in my cheek of course.) showed the younger artists of the day’s events just what it is to be a professional musician. Maybe it’s my 55 year old ears, but I think they are as good as they ever were. They performed a memorable rendition of ’The Alleys of Austin’ and a rousing version of G.P. Nunn’s ‘London Homesick Blues’. Also joining them onstage was the great singer/songwriter, Bobby Bridger in his trademark grey felt cowboy hat competing with Nunn’s crème straw Stetson hat for ‘best cowboy hat’ of the day. No single group of musicians has represented Texas Music better than this group and they ain't slowing down that I can 'hear'.
I almost forgot the single most important person who I observed making the evening’s events flow smoothly- Ms. Dalis Allen. This striking Texas lady took over production responsibilities from founder Rod Kennedy and does a great job of filling his shoes. Thanks again Dalis, for being a great host to us all (media, fans, and artists) and tolerating my being underfoot backstage, drinking your coffee and eating your Clif bars on this memorable Memorial Day.
If you can find your way to Kerrville, Texas and The Quiet Valley Ranch, you will not regret it. For more information on the Kerrville Folk Festival and a complete schedule of events and artists, visit http://www.kerrvillefolkfestival.com or call (830) 257-3600. If you have trouble finding Quiet Valley, find me in Utopia and I'll personally take you there, …but it can't be this weekend. My daughter Jessica is getting married in Ingram on the Gradualupe on Saturday evening.