‘Rebel’ Rod’s Ramblings – Opening night at the 40th Kerrville Folk Festival
By ‘Rebel’ Rod Ames
I arrived at the Kerrville Folk Festival for opening day on Thursday with my sister/photographer, T. K. Diaz to cover the evening for the blogs I enjoy writing. There is my blog, From Under the Basement and there is, of course, No Depression.
No Depression was the first blog that recognized my abilities outside of my circle of always encouraging friends and, over the last couple of years, have been gracious enough to post many of my thoughts and CD reviews, along with a few live reviews, very few. Maybe one or two (I think that was Leon Russell at the legendary Gruene Hall. The other was Tom Russell at Casbeer’s The Church in San Antonio, where I sat on the back row for a quick escape if necessary). For that, I will always be eternally grateful, and with No Depression in mind, I walked through the entrance of The Kerrville Folk Festival on May 26, 2011.
No big deal right? Well, for me it is. I do not do crowds. Few of what I write on my blogs, contain live music reviews. Crowds are usually the reason for that. It has the potential of being an extremely uncomfortable experience for me.
Previously, I mentioned Leon Russell, who I love and have seen live many times before I went all psycho with crowds. But, that night at Gruene Hall, the venue was so crowded, I had to leave early. I enjoyed the performance, but had to escape the people all cramming up around the small crowded stage. I calmly walked out of the building, but in my head, something entirely different was going on. I was literally about to implode. Anxiety and impatience, all mixed with the aroma of nauseating stale beer and cigarette smoke equal a quick exit for me these days.
I sucked it up though, and through the rustic entrance of the historic Quiet Valley Ranch in Kerrville, Texas, I walked. The smell of patchouli and sweat intertwined with each other. It was hot but the trees casting their almost perpetual shadows on to the ground provided a cooling effect. I glanced to my right and saw four children playing in a sandbox built long ago. This one unassuming, seemingly insignificant sight was actually an accurate representation of what the Kerrville Folk Festival is.
Time has stopped for the Quiet Valley Ranch from late May until mid June. It has been that way for the last 40 years. Literally, nothing has changed for the most part. It is a quaint and warm environment for everyone involved. The artists, the patrons, the vendors, are all extremely pleasant and carefree.
It was at this moment that I realized I had absolutely no apprehension about being around so many people. I felt at ease. I was home. That was the extraordinary thing about what was happening. I felt as if I had walked through the welcoming doors of indulgent family or friends who would always welcome me into their abodes. It was just like that.
There was no anxiety, no fear, no feelings of imminent psychotic implosion, just warmth engulfing every single cell of my existence. It was truly metaphysical and enlightening. I was free. What had taken me so long to walk through that completely unassuming entrance to the world famous Kerrville Folk Festival?
As we made our way across the terrain, following the music of Brother Sun who had already commenced their performance, it was apparent this was going to be an amazing evening. We made our way to the left of the stage where I put T.K. to work, doing what she does best, capturing the moments with her camera.
I explained to her what I would like to see and she got to work. I parked myself on one of the wooden benches strategically placed in front of the main stage where the trio of Brother Sun was performing.
Brother Sun is Pat Wictor, Greg Greenway, and Joe Jencks. As stated in the blurb on KFF’s website,
“Their harmonies, as much as their lyrics, tell what they are about: warm as a campfire, stirring as a gospel church, rousing as a call to arms. Calling upon contemporary songwriting, and informed by the deep roots of gospel, blues, and folk, the trio weaves a tapestry of harmony that is brilliantly fresh and yet familiar.” I was trying to figure out a way to say what this amazing trio was about when I realized this said it best. That is why God gave us quotation marks in the first place!
There performance was near perfect if not completely so. The harmonies were as good as it gets. These three amazing artists from different parts of America – Boston, Chicago, and New York, to be more precise – had the vision to see what they could do with each other, each of their voices complimenting the other.
From my angle, I could see Rod Kennedy in the background observing and listening approvingly to this incredible performance. It was an absolute wonderful moment to witness on this, the 40th anniversary of the festival.
I spoke to Greg Greenway after their performance, and wound up feeling somewhat ridiculous during the little time I had with him by letting him know I had never heard of them before. However, in my defense, the real folksy type music like theirs is something I’m just not very familiar. “We’re new! We’re very new!” he exclaimed. Nevertheless, they are accomplished solo musicians in their own right, with a combined 20 plus solo albums.
They are not new but their combined sound is. I would advise anyone not familiar with Brother Sun to get familiar soon. They are absolutely incredible!
Next up was Lost Pines, a traditional/progressive bluegrass sextet from Austin, Texas. They hit the stage running with an energy necessary for bluegrass music and even more energized by almost literally every bluegrass associated instrument known to the music world. That’s not really true, but there was definitely a lot of talent on the stage.
Lost Pines is Talia Bryce (rhythm guitar, lead and harmony vocals) Christian Ward (banjo, lead vocals), Marc Lionetti (lead guitar, harmony vocals) Brian Durkin (upright bass), Jon Kempainnen (fiddle), and Alex Rueb (mandolin).
The necessary harmonies were exquisite the entire show with the lead vocals alternatively performed by Ms. Bryce, Mr. Ward, and Mr. Lionetti. Each lead singer has the perfect voice for bluegrass, and when you put them all together, you get, what else, but the perfect bluegrass harmonization.
One more thing about not just Lost Pines, but Brother Sun as well; it was obvious all performers didn’t just enjoy what they were doing up on the Kennedy Stage, they truly loved what they were doing. In turn, the crowd loved them right back.
There were two or three other performers that first night. I got there too late to catch the opening act, Joel Mabus, but from all reports, he was outstanding. In addition, I have a paying job and I’m old (that’s my excuse anyway) and had been going since 5am so I had to call it an early night, but the Billy Bright Trio was there as well as Suzy Boggus.
I’ve seen The Billy Bright Trio numerous times and have written about them before. There is no doubt in my mind that Mr. Bright, Dennis Ludiker, and Jesse Dalton were anything less than spectacular. Suzy Boggus, well, I’m not very familiar with her, but this is the Kerrville Folk Festival. Anything less than outstanding and she wouldn’t have been on stage in the first place. Therefore, I’m quite certain if I would have stayed long enough to catch her act, I would have loved it as well.
Stay tuned. There will be more. I’m hoping to be able to speak with Mary Gauthier on Monday evening if she’ll allow.
So there you have it, opening day at the world famous Kerrville Folk Festival. Yes, time has stood still in some areas and not much, if anything, has changed in the last 40 years, except for the music. It just keeps moving and evolving. It’s all just as it should be.
Until next time, keep listening to the Music.