It Takes a Village: Memories of Kerrville Folk Festival 2023

Dispatches from the 51st campout, from Ray Prim to Flamy Grant

Anaïs Mitchell on the Moontower Late Night Acoustic Stage (Photo by Aaron Polinard of 1Perspective Photography)

Picture, if you will, a village. Dirt roads and camps sprawl out in all directions, creatively named and decorated. People gather outside the general store, which could be considered the center of town, long after it’s closed.

You travel by foot, making your way to ever-changing destinations of campsites that emanate colored lights and live music. It feels familiar on a cellular level. As you happen upon these camps, you’re likely to encounter past, present, or future musical legends. One could never sum up the festival in a single review, it can only be experienced in person.

The 51st Kerrville Folk Festival, which ran May 25 through June 11 at Quiet Valley Ranch, included main stage performers Gina Chavez, Terri Hendrix with Lloyd Maines, John Fullbright, Darrell Scott, Mary Gauthier, the Brother Brothers, Good Looks, John Doe, and many others.

I could tell you that it’s one of the longest-running annual music festivals on the continent, and that it helped spawn the careers of Steve Earle, Nanci Griffith, Robert Earl Keen, Ani DiFranco, and Butch Hancock. I could tell you about Gatorade-aritas from a cooler tap in the campground, and laughing hard with old friends you haven’t seen in a long time. This is just an appetizer. (Revisit our 50th anniversary feature on Kerrville’s history.)

Ray Prim

On Sunday of the fest’s second weekend, Austin’s Ray Prim launched straight into the funk with an eightpiece band composed of equal parts men and women. Longtime 7 Stones principal Prim referenced Billie Holiday’s “Strange Fruit,” then shared in chorusing harmonies on his own “Too Much to Lose”: “This is America, red white and blue/ But it ain’t the same for me and you.”

The Moontower Late Night Acoustic Stage

Squirrel Nut Zippers, sans Jimbo Mathis, were savagely fronted by former Austinite, current New Orleanian Dr. Sick during their mainstage set. Sick also reunited with his former bandmate, Austin’s Raina Leigh Krause, for the first time in 13 years as the Finer Things on the festival’s Moontower Stage. The intimate performance took place late at night, unplugged, under the canopy of a giant oak tree rumored to be a thousand years old, for some of the finest entertainment Kerrville has to offer. Other performances booked by Austin’s Moontower Productions included Anaïs Mitchell, Ethan Azarian, Possessed by Paul James, Devon Sproule, Bridget Kearney, Wilson Marks Trio, and Daniel Fears.

Raina Leigh Krause and Dr. Sick (Photo by Aaron Polinard of 1Perspective Photography)

Steve Poltz

Second Friday, Steve Poltz reached into his shirt and showed the crowd a prosthetic eye which he wears on a string around his neck. It was gifted to him from a girl who wore it, after she got a new one. Other Poltz tales: One time he saw a sign from his deceased father in a venue bathroom – he noted that it’s intense to pee and cry at the same time. He once corrected a performer at a bar who was singing the wrong lyrics to a song that he co-wrote: the 1995 Jewel hit “You Were Meant for Me.” The performer disagreed with his correction. So did the audience, and apparently the venue, and Poltz was ejected.

The Milk Carton Kids

The Milk Carton Kids shared that Kerrville was the first festival they ever played. While they sang “Michigan” (“clouds move over Pontiac skies”), clouds indeed moved over the stage and began to flash and rumble. Some people made a break for it. A half hour later, wind blasted the pouring rain in from the sides of the canopies in the campgrounds. Lightning flashed and white ribbons of a former tent danced through the air above the area known as “the meadow.” Another flash illuminated human figures, covered in long ponchos, holding onto the canopy poles of Camp Inertia.

Someone walked around with a broomstick, pushing at the roof where the water was pooling. There was less of a sense of panic than of camaraderie. The figures looming in their rain gear were mostly women who have camped in this spot for decades – the majority of their lives for some. Among them are the Mothers of Inertia: Valerie “Val” Stinson and Catherine Mullins Espy, who co-founded their camp in 1986. Val is welcoming, accommodating, organized, thoroughly experienced, and has an old, weathered Louisville Slugger leaning against a pole in the middle of her camp.

Flamy Grant

Among the six winners of Kerrville’s Grassy Hill New Folk Competition was drag performer Flamy Grant. Flamy (pronounced with a long a) is a “shame-slaying, hip-swaying heathen with Appalachian roots who now calls San Diego home.” Flamy won the competition with performances of original songs: “What Did You Drag Me Into?” – a mostly autobiographical gospel rock tune about growing up queer in relation to her parents and church; and “Esther, Ruth, and Rahab” – where she was careful to not curse in front of the children in the audience and instead substituted certain words with emojis.

Andrew Pressman and Raina Rose (Photo by Aaron Polinard of 1Perspective Photography)


This year’s festival was closed out by SQUINTO, a supergroup of Austin heroes Raina Rose, Andrew Pressman, Jack Wilson, and “Bluegrass Dave” Wilmoth. They harmonized on Rose’s “Swing Wide the Gates” from her 2013 album Caldera. “I’ve been strong as summer and I’ve been weak as winter/ Lost in the cross and found as a sinner.” For the final song, attendees flooded the stage to sing Bobby Bridger’s “Heal in the Wisdom,” and the 18-day festival collapsed onto itself.

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A Culture 50 Years in the Making: The Kerrville Folk Festival Experience
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Kerrville Folk Festival, Kerrville Folk Festival 2023, Ray Prim, Moontower Productions, Squirrel Nut Zippers, Steve Poltz, The Milk Carton Kids, Flamy Grant, SQUINTO

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