I played the Kennedy stage at the Kerrville Fall Folk Festival Saturday night. My dad, Jon Dee Graham, and I have become a duo for just such very special occasions, which I’m in love with as much as jumping off the Continental Club stage in a rock & roll spasm. I joke that I bring Bob Dylan Newport Folk Festival shock to folk with my electric guitar.
As do players like Raina Rose and Anthony da Costa, for that matter.
I play acoustic on my songs, electric on my dad’s. We get a ton of dancers lining up at the side of the stage for the latter’s “Big Sweet Life.” It feels rock-band big, but it’s just the two of us. That’s just right, perfectly folk, bringing the music to the people.
Kerrville remains pure folk cult. For starters, there’s nothing quite like the two-hour drive up to Quiet Valley Ranch – as opposed to braving downtown Austin traffic for a club show. A dirt road leads you to two happy people that greet you near a sign that reads “Welcome Home.”
One of them recalls the time a gentlemen arrived dressed sharp with a big hat. By day two he’d lost his hat, and by the third afternoon he’d gone native. The greeters point us onward to a guy with matted braids playing a banjo as he directs traffic in between songs.
We get our artist wristbands and the gentlemen putting them on asks, “How’s that? Is it too tight?” Festival producer Dalis Allen arrives with big hugs for us. Now that’s a welcome! Talk about hospitality.
It’s over 100 degrees and no one but us and the Canadians seem to be sweating. One stage hand keeps telling my mom she smells good and she shrugs, “You know, it’s pretty rare out here.” Later in the evening, stage manager Georgia Parker rescues a scorpion off the stage.
We aren’t the only act family act playing. Canadian Ariana Gillis kicks the night off with her father, David Gillis. Ariana’s been taking the folk world by storm since she was 17 – six years ago.
They’re a perfect father/daughter act, performing across North American several nights a week. My mouth drops when she starts singing her hit, “Dream Street”: “My daddy don’t like it when I wish too far/ He says I don’t got the means, but I got the heart/ I traded all I own for a busted up guitar/ I’m gonna play it so hard.”
She sings with as much vigor as Janis Joplin for the folkers. Rock critic Dave Marsh’s accolades set her career on fire, followed by Elton John lyricist Bernie Taupin’s praise. Some people call her new country. Who makes up these genres anyway?
Onstage Saturday, three Canadian acts perform opposite a pair of Stateside acts. I worry about the future of folk, although Canadians seem to have a strong hold on it.
Walking around the audience near the vendors, I don’t see that many young people, yet they come out of the woodwork after we play. At some point, people started calling folk singers singer-songwriters. Me, I live a dual life of folker and rocker. If you can’t pull off unplugged, I personally question your abilities.
I’ve become good friends with Amy Sue Berlin, a second generation folker whose mother is Anne Feeney. Now we’re talking old-school folk. Feeney’s a traditional folker through and through, singing protest songs. Woody Guthrie was the first American punk rocker and one of my favorite photos is the iconic one him with his acoustic six-string and the inscription painted on it: “This guitar kills Fascists.”
The future of folk is upon us. What will my generation produce? The only pure underage folker I can think of as I write this is Christiane Swenson, who miraculously walked out of the movie Inside Lewlyn Davis onto local stages.
Next for Texas: a new gathering on Padre Island called the Island Folk Festival, slated for this coming weekend, Sept. 5-6. To thank for that and a roster starring Dana Falconberry, Tish Hinojosa, Warren & Marshall Hood, and many more, you have Jason Weems, production manager at Kerrville for some nine years, along with island native Aarin Hartwell and the support of South Padre and local businesses.
“They really love folk music and original performing songwriters down there,” says Weems. “It’s a labor of love, but now we get to bring together the vibrant Austin folk scene to Padre.”
See you on the island.
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