Longtime attendee and volunteer, Terry Theis contemplates the dynamics he sees unfold year after year at the Kerrville Folk Festival. Photo by Phil Houseal

June 7, 2017–When Terry Theis first attended the Kerrville Folk Festival back in 1978, he, uh, bypassed the gate.

“Yeah, I joined up because I finally got caught sneaking in,” confessed the Harper engraver and accordion player when I interviewed him outside Threadgill Theater at Quiet Valley Ranch. “Now I work security.”

The irony does not escape him. Theis’s story is one of the “transformational experiences” promised in the brochure of this longest running music festival in North America.

That is what the Kerrville Folk Festival is all about, according to Mary Muse, Executive Director. Now overseeing her third festival, Muse has attended the event as far back as the early 1990s. She is always looking for more local residents to experience that for themselves.

“One of the things I told the board when I started this job is my priority is building relationships in the local communities,” she said. “We have so much room to grow.”

For Hill Country residents who have yet to attend this festival–and there seem to be many still–the Kerrville Folk Festival was founded in 1972 by Rod Kennedy to provide a nurturing environment for artistic expression, especially for songwriting and songwriters. The full event runs 18 days beginning the Memorial Day weekend, and features dozens and dozens of music acts, plus workshops, competitions, crafts, and a “relaxed attitude” to some of society’s conventions. The 2017 version wraps up this weekend.

Wearing his volunteer badge, Theis calls the festival “compressed humanity.”

“We are so packed in that things just happen–boom boom boom,” he said. “Planning is ludicrous and laughable. Every place you turn something could happen, a new friend, a new delight. And that’s a good thing.”

The Kerrville Folk Festival is all about the songs, the people who write them, and the people who love them. Photo by Phil Houseal

That leads to some myths and misconceptions about who attends the festival and who it is for.

“We do deal with some negative branding, that it’s just a bunch of hippies,” Muse admitted. “The truth is that what this fest is about and its core mission is the celebration of songwriting and songwriters. We are only festival I know of that is a celebration of simply the songwriter. This is their kingdom; this is the place they get recognition and their souls fed. That is the heart and core of what we do.”

In the course of doing that, there are layers and layers, with people from different walks of life, with different ideologies. Muse notes the other foundational premise of the festival is “tolerance and acceptance.”

“People show up who look very different from the rest of us,” said Muse. “But we as a community take to heart not to judge people by their cover.” Muse noted that board members and supporters include CEOs, a university president, orthopedic surgeon, and at least 10 attorneys. “When you come out here and put on a t-shirt, sandals, and hat, we don’t know if you are a plumber or a doctor. The tie is a love and appreciation of music.”

That is the key for Theis and why he keeps coming back.

“What makes it special is it’s all about singing and songwriting,” Theis said. “So people have their hearts on their sleeves here.”

He sees it as an environment for “connecting heart to heart.”

“This place is known as an oasis if your life is in shambles, shattered, or at a turning point,” he said. “Show up here and the answers will come. It’s just that kind of place.”

Entering its the final weekend, Muse reminds people that there is still lots of great music to be played. She sends a sincere invitation to “newbies” who have yet to experience the call of the festival.

“Come meet some of the people in this community,” she said. “You will find warmth of welcome and intelligence that is blended with humor, something you don’t experience every day.”

As for Theis, he has atoned for his trespass many times over. Like a jailhouse convert, he eagerly shares his epiphany.

“I swear to you, today I had a pensive moment as I walked in,” he said. “It’s about how I used to sneak in and was an outsider, and now I am way insider. And it is just the sweetest thing in the world. The magic is happening everywhere you turn.”


The Kerrville Folk Festival continues through Sun, June 11, at Quiet Valley Ranch south of Kerrville. Information at www.kerrvillefolkfestival.org