The Kerrville Folk Festival: A Texas Tradition of Music and Community

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The Kerrville Folk Festival: A Texas Tradition of Music and Community

When you hear people talk about Kerrville you will find the conversation inevitably turns to a story or reminiscing of the Kerrville Folk Festival. The Folk Festival stands as one of the most cherished and enduring celebrations of folk music in the United States. Since its inception in 1972, the festival has grown from a modest gathering into a revered event that attracts musicians and music lovers from around the globe. Let's delve into the rich history of the Kerrville Folk Festival and explore what makes it such a unique and enduring part of the musical landscape.
Photo Credit: Brandon Robinson 

Origins and Early Years

The Kerrville Folk Festival was founded by Rod Kennedy, a passionate promoter with a deep love for folk music. The inaugural event took place at the Quiet Valley Ranch, just nine miles south of Kerrville, Texas. Kennedy's vision was to create a space where songwriters and performers could share their music in an intimate and supportive environment.

The first festival in 1972 was a humble affair, drawing a small but enthusiastic crowd. Despite its modest beginnings, the event quickly gained a reputation for its high-quality performances and warm, communal atmosphere. Early performers included the likes of Steven Fromholz, a Texas music legend, and Peter Yarrow of Peter, Paul and Mary fame. The festival’s emphasis on original songwriting and acoustic music struck a chord with attendees, setting the stage for its future growth.

Photo Credit: Brandon Robinson 

Growth and Development

Throughout the 1970s and 1980s, the Kerrville Folk Festival expanded both in size and scope. The festival began to attract more well-known artists, including Townes Van Zandt, Nanci Griffith, and Lyle Lovett, each of whom brought their unique style to the event. The Quiet Valley Ranch itself also evolved, with improvements to the camping facilities, performance stages, and infrastructure to better accommodate the growing crowds.

One of the key factors that set Kerrville apart from other music festivals was its focus on the songwriter. The festival became known as a nurturing ground for emerging talent, offering workshops, song circles, and mentoring sessions where new artists could learn from seasoned professionals. This emphasis on education and collaboration helped to cultivate a vibrant and supportive community of musicians.
Photo Credit: Brandon Robinson 

A Unique Festival Experience

What truly distinguishes the Kerrville Folk Festival is its sense of community. Unlike many larger, more commercial music festivals, Kerrville retains a laid-back, welcoming atmosphere where artists and fans mingle freely. The festival's campground is a major hub of activity, with spontaneous jam sessions and late-night campfire singalongs creating a sense of camaraderie and shared experience.

The festival's duration is another unique aspect. Spanning 18 days each May and June, the Kerrville Folk Festival is the longest continuously running music festival of its kind in North America. This extended timeframe allows for a deeper connection between participants and a more immersive experience for attendees.

Photo Credit: Brandon Robinson 

Notable Moments and Legacy

Over the years, the Kerrville Folk Festival has been the site of many memorable performances and milestones. The New Folk competition, a now-famous contest that has helped launch the careers of numerous singer-songwriters is the most notable. Past winners include talents like Robert Earl Keen, James McMurtry, and Anaïs Mitchell, all of whom have gone on to significant acclaim. The festival has also been a place where established artists can experiment and collaborate. Iconic musicians like Willie Nelson and Emmylou Harris have graced the Kerrville stage, often sharing new material or performing in unique combinations with other artists.

Photo Credit: Brandon Robinson 

The Festival Today

Today, the Kerrville Folk Festival continues to thrive, attracting thousands of attendees each year. Despite the passing of founder Rod Kennedy in 2014, the festival remains true to his vision of celebrating the art of songwriting and fostering a supportive musical community. The event has adapted to changing times while still maintaining the intimate, grassroots feel that has defined it for over five decades.

As it looks to the future, the Kerrville Folk Festival remains a beacon for folk music enthusiasts, a place where the past, present, and future of the genre come together in harmony. Whether you're a seasoned festival-goer or a newcomer looking to experience the magic for the first time, the Folk Festival offers a unique and unforgettable musical journey in the heart of the Texas Hill Country.

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