A Little Memorial Festival in Texas – November, 2011
Three days of fantastic singer / songwriters, nice people, wonderful weather, and a relaxing environment – that was the 8th annual Rice Festival of 2011. It was a special day to start — being 11/11/11 with a harvest moon and Veterans Day all in one. Here are some top-level notes to accompany a few photos. (And there are a few more related photos in my “albums’ section.)
Friday evening began with 5 of the 6 recent Grassy Hill Kerrville Folk Festival winners, including A.J. Roach, Cassie Peterson, David Moss, Grace Pettis, and Megan Burtt. They supported each other through a rotating session of troubadour tunes and good laughs. Doug Mosher accompanied them.
Susan Werner, currently of Chicago, followed, joined by Trina Hamlin on percussion and vocals. Things were definitely rolling. They covered multiple genres, from gospel to “Colette” Porter, and one could definitely hear the Rodney Crowell influences as well. Within the set, we heard a unique version of the Our Father prayer, and a song called “Did Trouble Me” which we learned Tom Jones had covered in his gospel tour. There was a lot of music and joy coming from these two women.
Red Horse, comprised of John Gorka, local Eliza Gilkyson, and Lucy Kaplansky, played next. They took turns covering each other’s songs and their own songs from over the years – a great team of harmonies from three well-known artists. Highlights included “Elation”, “Forget To Breathe”, Beauty Way”, “Ten Year Night”, and a finale with Curtis Mayfield’s “People Get Ready”.
Austin’s own Warren Hood and The Goods closed out night one, with Emily Gimble on keys and vocals, Willie Pipkin on guitar, Corey Keller on drums, and Lindsay Greene on standup bass. They had a tight, full sound, and get better each time we see them.
Saturday opened with a Rice Fest regular, Butch Morgan. And it should be noted that Butch was everywhere, every day, supporting numerous other musicians, playing the National Anthem, acting as occasional emcee, and as general happiness maker. He is quite the guy, and quite the guitar player. His own show included the appropriate song for the times, “Dry”, as well as a touching song about a guy who lives in his hometown of Devine, TX. Then, he was joined with an unscheduled appearance from another Butch….. Hancock! That was a mighty fine treat for sure.
Joe Jencks, with his dual US / Irish citizenship, followed, playing a homemade bouzouki on many numbers. A memorable song was “Lady of the Harbor”, referring to the day his grandfather landed at Ellis Island. Next sweet Caroline Herring brought touching stories and her beautiful voice to the stage. She too sang about a grandparent in “Abuelita”, and also gave the tale of an untimely Appalachian death in “Mountains of West County”.
Danny Schmidt returned to the festival, joined by his talented, energetic wife Carrie Elkin. The set included new material requiring Carrie to have some notes, and ended with the appropriate and superb song, “Company of Friends”. Those two have a lot of friends, and a lot of fans. Michael Peter Smith followed. And though he was new to me, there was one song I had learned years ago, “The Dutchman.” I heard it often, sung by the Clancy Brothers in our Irish American household growing up. And now I won’t forget his song, “I Brought My Father With Me”. He is a talented, funny guy who has written some true classics. Then David Wilcox, one of Rice Harrington’s favorite musicians, sang ballads of cars, corporate greed, and the state of our world. He’s witty and intense, and it was great to finally see him live.
The belle of the festival, Sarah Jarosz, highlighted Saturday evening. Along with Alex Hargreaves on fiddle and Nathaniel Smith on cello, we were treated to songs from both of her CDs, along with covers of Dylan and Paul Simon songs. Tim O’Brien introduced Sarah to Rice Fest when it began, and we know what’s happened to her in these last years. This time she brought to the stage her original mandolin teacher, Michael Bond, and they played “Buck’s Run” reminiscent of the early days in Wimberley.
New England based Crooked Still played the last set on Saturday night. The quintet performed traditional bluegrass songs, innovative newgrass songs, and even a Beatle cover. Their music was most enjoyable! Lead singer Aoife O’Donovan and Sarah Jarosz shared stage time, and have done recordings together, such as with the new Some Strange Country album. It was also fun to watch Alex Hargreaves and Brittany Haas play fiddle together.
Upon our return to the hall Sunday morning, we were able to hear Matt Harlan from nearby Boerne — someone we’ll definitely be following from here on. He was joined by Rachel Jones, and then his recent touring partner, Brian Hudson. I particularly liked their rendition of “Walter”.
Brian Hudson’s performance was also a treat, starting right off with talk of being “lonely as balls”. His “folk rap” MC Devil Son” struck me in particular. He too is Austin based, formerly of The Hudsons, and surely is one to see again.
Marshall Hood joined him for a while – another nice surprise. I liked their song “Diet and Exercise”. Then all three, Brian, Marshall, and Matt, finished the set together with Blaze Foley’s “Clay Pigeons.
Next we were treated to Big Wide Grin. Constants Elaine Dempsey and Karl Werne were joined by Tom Prasada Rao, since they told us Lawrence Lambert couldn’t be there due to commitments related to his work with a diabetes foundation. Wow. … on all the vocals, on Karl’s incredible guitar playing, on Tom’s ability to mesh perfectly, on the choice of songs, the energy, all of it!
Eric Taylor took the stage midday on Sunday. Our friend Cindy Hudler, wh0 is truly knowledgeable in Texas music, enlightened me to the fact that Eric had been married to Nancy Griffith years ago. And Lyle has covered his songs. There is a lot of seriousness in his work, and as Rice Fest regular Susan Wofford says, “He does angst so well.” He played his own songs, Townes’ songs, and had plenty of tributes. Even Rin Tin Tin got a tribute in “Peppercorn Tree”, or “Parker Road”, as he called it.
Kevin Welch took us to the end of the festival on Sunday afternoon. He drove all night from Terlingua to be there. For Veteran’s Day, he sang “New Widow’s Dream”. In a historical moment, he played “The Great Emancipation”, which he sang first on the same stage two years earlier. He sang brand new songs, as yet unnamed (we helped!), and older classics like Millionaire”. He performed Guy Clark’s “Magdalene” being released right now on a tribute CD. And more. Hardly a soul left. It was great.
In between sets and through the nights, there was music in the nearby campground. I’m sure being a camper rounds out the whole experience, but I’m not able to report on that, however, as we were up the road in a cabin for some serious sleep.
To Jeff Gavin, and all the organizers, we thank you for a wonderful musical experience.