Making Friends at the Kerrville Folk Festival

The Texas Story Project.

The first time I ever went to the Kerrville Folk Festival, I was living just outside Woodstock, New York. It was 1998, and I drove non-stop for 48 hours with someone I had never met before but knew through a Folk Music listserv. Every six to eight hours, we switched out sleeping in the back of his car. The man I drove there with was fairly prominent in the folk community, so when I asked where we get food and water at the festival he replied, “Oh, people just feed you. You don’t have to worry about it."  I didn’t understand this answer but thought I’d just figure it out when I got there.

We arrived on a sweltering, hot, dusty Thursday afternoon greeted by a sign that read, “Welcome Home.”  We entered the campgrounds crawling at 5 m.p.h. on the gravel ranch roads. The people we passed had bed head, and no one looked like they’d slept or showered for days. We stopped the car to unload. My 48-hour co-pilot was engulfed in bear hugs and greetings from old friends. He was invited to set up his tent with a camp group known as “Camp Caho,” while I remained seemingly invisible. I now understood how he was going eat, but who was going to feed me?

So, I was standing alone on a dusty gravel road in the blistering sun with my tent, my sleeping bag, my guitar, and my duffle bag.  I had no water, no food, and no friends and only about $50 in my pocket. Panic began to well up in me. Then a guy with long, stringy, blond hair walked up and said, “You okay?” I probably spent a good fifteen minutes explaining just how ‘Not okay’ I was. He listened, kindly and politely and said, “It’s going to be all right. Hang on a sec.” He walked over to two big guys. I could see him asking some questions and gesturing. The two big guys kept looking over at me. He came back and said, “Those guys cook for our camp,  If you can chip in, say, $60 for food you can join us for the weekend.” I panicked again and asked, “Will they take a check?” A smile slowly came over his face. He began to laugh and said, “Yeah. I think they will.” He helped me set up my tent and introduced me to the people of his camp. The guy with the long, stringy blond hair, the two big guys, and all the people at that camp, over the course of the next sixteen years, would become some of the best and most reliable friends I have ever known. And to this day, they still feel more like family than friends.

Back in 1998, radio was still relevant and getting visibility as a songwriter at a festival like Kerrville could be a game changer for your career. I don’t think it has much impact on your career one way or another anymore. However, the festival itself still has the power to change your life, which perhaps is more important. I have travelled all over the world, and I can think of no place that has changed me more profoundly than the Kerrville Folk Festival.

Stefanie Fix is a singer-songwriter, jewelry maker, and essayist who lives in Austin.

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