Sunday, June 13, 2010

Thoughts About & Inspired By the Kerrville Folk Festival

The Kerrville Folk Festival is a difficult animal to explain to someone who’s never been. I say this at risk of becoming something I’m not, which is one of those people who elevate an event like Kerrville to some sort of divine status…the people that when you finally cave in and go, they look at you and say, “Yeah, it’s kind of commercial/sold-out now, it’s too bad you never got to come when it was cool.” Mind you, the remarkable thing about Kerrville is that it’s been going strong for 38 years, and anyone who was going to cry “sell-out” probably got that over with quite some time ago. The festival is what it is, and gradually evolves every year in subtle ways that are sometimes difficult to detect but are almost always positive.

So, having said this, I have thoughts about this year’s festival.

I am so grateful for all the great friends I made this year, all the friends I got to see again, and all the songwriters I got to hear (most of which qualify as friends now as well).

I am really grateful for all the inspiration Kerrville gave me this year, both in terms of working on becoming a better songwriter, and a better guitarist/instrumentalist (I have decided that I am going to get my mandolin back out and try to become less of a hack).

I’m happy to see a crop of New Folk (Kerrville’s annual songwriting contest) winners that are truly diverse and enjoyable. I mean, I’m sure this applies every year, but this year I was particularly impressed by the judges’ picks.

I am ready to see things get even more diverse at this festival. The folk world tends to be pretty insular, and I think it’s only going to hurt it in the long run. The music world is changing, though, and it’s going to be interesting how this affects Kerrville and the folk world in general. The younger generation (as in, 40 and under) should not be afraid of shaking things up. Start radio shows/podcasts on the internet. Play “folk” music, but play rock and r&b, too. Devote your shows to “good” music, and not to things that ultimately pay service to “radio formats” that are going the way of the dinosaur.

As I get closer to starting my radio show later this summer, I wonder a lot of things, but I wonder if I can have any impact at all on the folk world that I’ve become a part of through working with K.C. I’d love to see a real revolution in terms of the way music is approached, or at least, the way PRESENTING music is approached, both in a live context and a radio context.

I’m sure this segregating of music worlds is good for some things, and that there are people who get a lot out of it being this way (the house concert movement, for instance, wouldn’t have much momentum if it weren’t for the folk world and its attendant conferences/organizations/festivals. House concerts for rock & roll are completely impractical most of the time. I’d welcome any comments on how rock & roll can reinvent its presentation for the new era…ideas for presenting band-oriented music in contexts that don’t revolve around alcohol sales). Those people may suffer in some capacity if the walls start to break down. Maybe a complete demolition of those walls isn’t necessary, but making them a bit more porous is positive and probably inevitable.

Betty Soo’s mainstage debut at Kerrville this year was a riveting blur of Texas country, rock & roll, and sure, something that could be called folk music. Two Bob Dylan covers didn’t hurt, either. Of course, there are people in the folk world who would rather forget that Dylan ever went electric. It’s bizarre that I’m even writing a blog entry like this when ultimately the first cracks in the walls started appearing in 1965. You’d think, by now, the discussion would be over. But since it’s not, let’s discuss. Please comment, especially if you’re someone who attends Kerrville or Folk Alliance.


drivinman said...

Nice post, David.

Mixtape Jones said...

Thank you, sir, thank you indeed.