The only thing muted about Monday's final day of the Kerrville Folk Festival was the size of the crowd — after that, it was rocking, swinging and all fun all the time.
Thanks to the coronavirus pandemic and Texas Gov. Greg Abbott's mandate against mandates, the 49th version of Folk Festival had limited attendance. Still, there was no shortage of enthusiasm for the acts on the final day.
"They are delighted," said Mary Muse, the festival's longtime executive director. "It's definitely more spread out than normal."
In years past, as many as 20,000 people (or more) would pass through the "Welcome Home" entrance to the Quiet Valley Ranch to see performances that stretched over 18 days. To assuage fears of guests and performers, the Kerrville Folk Festival Foundation reduced the capacity and the run of days. The festival also took a hit when it couldn't get a permit to sell alcohol because it required proof of vaccination, running afoul of Abbott's order against vaccination mandates.
Ian Lee, Georgia Parker and Nick Lochman make up Big Cedar Fever.
Even with all of those challenges, the festival carried on. On Monday, the final performances proved to be an eclectic mix of Western Swing, Rock, Americana, and then the Shinyribs, who covered Rhianna's "Bitch Better Have My Money."
"When was the last time Rhianna played the Folk Festival," said Shinyribs lead singer Kevin Russell, who led the raucous final performance.
If anything, Monday's performance demonstrated the wild, eclectic tastes of Texas. After missing last year due to the pandemic, even a limited festival return was significant to those in attendance.
Shinyribs frontman Kevin Russell thanks the crowd on Monday night at the Kerrville Folk Festival.
"It's a reminder of something that we all value in a community, and it's almost like we didn't know that we were missing it," said Kathleen Hudson, a professor at Schreiner University who has written about music extensively. "And all of a sudden, we're sitting here all together. It's a reminder of what community is."
"It's a reminder of something that we all value in a community, and it's almost like we didn't know that we were missing it. And all of a sudden, we're sitting here all together. It's a reminder of what community is." — Kathleen Hudson, center.
And there's a sense of community in the campsites and people who will stay at the ranch for the entire two weeks — some won't pack up until the last notes sound.
Some enjoy the camaraderie of those who have come to the festival, not even making their way to performance, rather hanging out jamming to their music.
"I don't even know what the lineup is," said a man, who called himself Lotus Street Poet.
Sitting in front of the Kerr Store, where festival-goers can buy pizza and ice, Lotus Street Poet jammed and offered jokes — some clean, others dirty, and a few admittedly obscene.
"It's beautiful to have people here," he said. "I live for these people."
Lotus Street Poet jams at the Kerrville Folk Festival.
For Muse and her staff of volunteers, plenty of challenges met them with COVID-19, but they weathered the storm.
"The people who are here are so grateful to be here that they have been totally understanding," Muse said. "It's been great."
As the day progressed, more and more people flocked to the theater. Through the years, longtime festival-goers have dubbed themselves "Kerrverts." They will dance the night away, return to their campgrounds and continue the music.
"It's just a treasure for Kerrville," Hudson said.
However, it's not something that Kerrville has always embraced. It's not uncommon for locals to make derisive comments about the event as nothing but a "hippie fest." There's certainly a lot of tie-dyes and some long graying hair, but it remains unclear if Americana-music is "hippie music."
There was plenty of dancing on Monday night at the Threadgill Amphitheater.
Some of the biggest names in Country and Americana music graced Kerrville's stages in the festival's history, including Willie Nelson and Lyle Lovett. The festival features awards for songwriting and performance. One of those performers was James McMurtry, who performed again this year.
"I was sitting in this theater with his father, Larry McMurtry, in 1989 to see James become one of the "New Folk" winners," Hudson said of Larry McMurtry, the Pulitzer Prize-winning author and screenwriter who died earlier this year. "For me to be sitting here with Larry McMurtry and then watching James in 2021. So, the memories are here."
Some love the festival so much they have permanent reminders — like Steve Owen, who has the festival's 2018 logo tattoed on his right arm. That was Owen's first year on the staff, and there's no place he'd rather be.
For many performers, this was their first opportunity to play before a live audience. Any fears they may have had melted by the supportive audience in the Threadgill Amphitheater.
"We are not in a rush to get back onto the road," said Ian Lee, a Wimberley musician and member of Big Cedar Fever. "But we have been playing since mid-summer. It's good to be back in front of people."
Big Cedar Fever is a trio with Lee, Georgia Parker and Nick Lochman. The group has a Western Swing sound, with a fiddle, a stand-up bass and guitars. The music is a history lesson in Texas sounds, including loving tributes to Bob Wills and the Texas Playboys.
"Western Swing is this really beautiful little thing because it came at the time of all the Big Bands," Lee said. "All of these people, they were listening to Charlie Parker. You know they all listened to Louis Armstrong and Dizzy Gillespie. So we have this strange thing of Jazz, this swing, but it's a dance, and it's got all the Texas tones."
And on Monday, there were plenty of Texas tones for all tastes.
"It's exciting to me because there's such variety," Hudson said. "Nobody wants to sit around and hear quiet folk singers. Today is an especially eclectic day for the finale."
And now the anticipation builds for next year's 50th-anniversary festival.
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Big Cedar Fever