If you have never been to the Texas hills at the end of May, when they are cleansed with rain and music rings in the empty places between the trees, come with me now.
“Welcome home, y’all!” a friendly woman calls from the ticket booth. We notice signs posted about the Kerrville cats—please take one home if you’re in need of a muse or “mews.” My sister is tempted, dangerously tempted. The Kerrville magic is already settling upon her.
Never mind that the winding paths are redolent with fumes made by hundreds of humans camping. Far more captivating are the little circles of musicians practicing, listening to one another, offering encouragement.
Everyone is free in Kerrville—liberated from societal pressures to look put together or even perfectly clean. We wear sandals down the dirt paths, and it doesn’t matter that our toes gather dust. This is the place for peasant blouses and baggy shorts, for letting your hair dry naturally and forgetting your make-up.
One silver-haired man wears sequined capes. He stands in the back of the covered amphitheater and waves his arms to the rhythm of each song. A new song, a different color cape. I laugh when I glance at him during a happy song and notice his glistening green cloak. My sister alerts me during a tear-jerker that he is now wearing black. How does he know which color cape to don next? It is a mystery, like his lip syncing. How could he know each song by heart? This is the New Folk Festival, where lesser-known artists perform original songs, with the hope of being named one of the six winners.
I simply have to meet the sequined man, who inexplicably reminds me of my father-in-law, a scientist who worked for NASA. The sequined man, who here at Kerrville is a hippy, with dancing arms that seem to blow in the wind, is a former lawyer. He tells me he makes the capes himself. Later, I smile as I watch him giving away smaller capes to the kids at the children’s concert.
We all wear a costume at Kerrville, or perhaps it is more accurate to say that we toss away our usual costumes in exchange for anonymity. Teachers, lawyers, hair stylists, doctors, social workers, waiters, old, young, rich, poor . . . in Kerrville we wear none of these labels. We are all children again—rosy-cheeked in the heat, a little sweaty, a little dirty. We are hill country dwellers fanning ourselves in the sun and sitting beneath stars at night, listening to music. When thunderclouds billow overhead, we are puddle stompers. Creativity colors our days. Playfulness dances in our eyes. We’re here to discover, to support artists, to revel in the gift of music.
In the middle of the New Folk Festival, Daddy leans over to me and whispers, “It’s like being at church.” I nod. Tears are pressing at my eyes. A lump is caught in my throat. This particular song would fall beneath the “secular” label, yet we experience its sacredness.
Anna Tivel is on stage, her small frame brimming with feeling as she strums her acoustic guitar. She embodies the Kerrville magic. Her songs melt away all judgement, allowing me to see the hearts of the people she writes about. She is a genius, a poet worthy of being anthologized, a prolific artist whose music deserves widespread recognition. Yet, she is here in the hot Texas hills with us.
My generous sister runs to buy me her CD. Anna signs it, and we tell her she’ll win. (She does!) Afterwards, a few scraggly bearded men surround her with awkward hugs and praise. Of course, Anna is gracious and smiling. She surely sees them as they truly are: a huddle of beautiful, music-loving hearts.