Celebrating Songwriters: The Kerrville Folk Festival

Every spring, folk songwriters and those who love the music they create gather at Quiet Valley Ranch just south of Kerrville for the Kerrville Folk Festival, an 18-day celebration of the storytellers in this unique musical genre. In its fifty-plus-year history, the festival has featured headliners and newcomers alike, and it’s become a gathering with a national reputation...so much so that the festival’s population rivals that of Kerrville itself!

The festival was founded in 1972 by music aficionado and promoter Rod Kennedy, whose passion and history of supporting songwriters and musicians dates as far back as 1958, when he was instrumental in bringing to the airwaves what would become KUT Radio in Austin. Kennedy teamed up with George Wein, the promoter of the legendary Newport Jazz Festival, to bring the Longhorn Jazz Festival into being in 1966, a celebration of jazz music that continues at the University of Texas at Austin to this day.

A stern and seasoned former US Marine, Kennedy nonetheless had a soft spot in his heart for sad and beautiful songs, and devoted the majority of his adult life to the support of songwriters and storytellers. His history and experience culminated in the creation of the Kerrville Folk Festival in 1972, which stands as the brightest spot in his legacy to most people. Rod Kennedy headed the festival until 2002, and attended it until the year before he passed away in 2014. His put-the-songwriter-first philosophy still drives the festival, including rules he established such as audience silence during a musician’s time on the stage.

Over the years, the Kerrville Folk Festival has featured outstanding performances from folk luminaries like Peter, Paul, and Mary, Willie Nelson, David Crosby, Emmylou Harris, Lyle Lovett, and Mary Chapin Carpenter. While headliners like those are unquestionably a big draw, the festival is just as well known for featuring and celebrating newcomers to the field. Since 1973, the Kerrville Folk Festival Foundation’s Grassy Hill New Folk Competition for Emerging Songwriters (Whew! That’s a mouthful! It’s no wonder people simply refer to it as “New Folk.”) has held a spirited competition that offers exposure for new voices in the genre. Some of the past year winners in New Folk have gone on to become highly-recognized folk names, such as Lyle Lovett, Robert Earl Keen, and Nanci Griffith.

Songwriters and performers are at the very heart of the Kerrville Folk Festival; however, there’s a lot more going on during this 18-day celebration! Here’s an overview of the other activities and attractions you’ll find at the family-friendly gathering.

  • Food, beer, and wine vendors
  • Handmade craft vendors
  • Workshops on guitar, harmonica, ukulele, and more instruments
  • Inspiring young music makers with the Young Artist Performance Incubator (YAPI)
  • Songwriters school workshops
  • Performance skills workshops
  • Hill Country bike rides
  • Habitat hikes
  • Guadalupe River canoe trips
  • Yoga sessions
  • Saturday Shabbat and Sunday folk song service
  • Family-oriented concerts and kids’ activities

Whether you stop by for a single evening or plan to take in the entire 18-day event, you’ll find some of the best folk entertainment in the world and a toe-tapping good time at the Kerrville Folk Festival! Early each year, they fire up their web page at www.kerrvillefolkfestival.org, and it’s a cornucopia of information on schedules, performer lineups, ticket information, and much more. It’s your one-stop shop for this entertaining and influential musical event.

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