Editor's note: After attending the Kerrville Folk Festival in 2000 for the first time, I returned to San Angelo to write a story about it. It immediately became the only story I ever wrote to be rejected for publication. I set about trying to tone it down. Cutting out a few of the juicier bits. The features editor just laughed when I brought it back.
So this story has never seen the light of day. Unfortunately, the original version is lost to time. All that remains is the abridged version. Gone, for example, is the anecdote about the shamanistic woman who strode purposefully through the remnants of a midnight wedding to approach me, standing in my T-shirt and boxer shorts. She rubbed my belly in a Budai-like fashion and in short order I threw up in the bushes.
Anyway, this is my Christmas gift to you. It appears as I typed it 17 years ago. Mostly. Enjoy.
KERRVILLE FOLK FESTIVAL — Four in the morning is my best guess as to the time, my watch being a late afternoon casualty of an all-day Lone Star Light appreciation fest.
Cameron is on the other side of the tent, snoring. I listen with envy: I can't sleep. The ground is hard as truth, I keep sliding downhill (more on that later) and the racket outside is astounding.
Somewhere, at a campfire to the east, a hippie woman is singing a "save-our-planet" song. How do I know she's a hippie? Her voice carries an urgency — and a volume — that no non-hippie could muster at 4 a.m.
"We have to learn / to take care of our mother
We have to learn / take care of each other"
Suddenly it strikes me that this is something I should see. Something I should witness. But my body, though refusing to sleep, won't allow me to get up, either.
I have to learn, the hippie woman would no doubt sing for me, to take care of my liver.
Cameron and I were 'Kerrvirgins' when we finally caught a glimpse of the Quiet Valley Ranch (a misnomer) at 7 p.m. on Friday. It wasn't what we expected.
No wide-open spaces of pasture interrupted by communes of tents. This was all mud and rock and tents crammed up against each other to the point that it was hard to make sense of it all.
It was hard to find a campsite at all.
We finally settled — out of desperation — to set up camp on a hill behind the Threadgill Memorial Theater. Not too far from the store/showers/bathrooms, though not nearly close enough to the bathrooms in the middle of the night.
Actually, we had a little space around us — a concept that apparently the hippies in the flatlands had no use for. And also because nobody else was dumb enough to set up a tent where the occupants would perpetually slide downhill.
Cameron wasn't optimistic about the weather, either. The storms that had hit San Angelo earlier that day were just now catching up with us. By midnight we would have a river running through the tent. Thankfully, the tent was big enough that we could sleep on either bank of the Rio Kerrville.
Third beer: Lone Star Light or Lone Star? These decisions are not easy at 8:45 a.m. Time is, especially at the Kerrville Folk Festival, an arbitrary concept. I've declared Kerrvile to be another time zone this Saturday morning and Cameron has embraced the idea.
Perched on lawn chairs on the side of the hill, we survey our kingdom below. By 9:30, only the trashbag (tied to the tent to keep it from sliding downhill) has kept track of our progress. A wedding procession walks down from the Threadgill theater to Chapel Hill (directly across from us).
We toast the bride and groom.
At noon, we kings of the hill rise for a little lunch only to find that some scoundrel has stolen our Cool Ranch Doritos.
Ham and cheese sandwiches do not ease our pain. Or sober us up. We decide a good, long nap would put us back in condition to see the music that evening.
We actually make it to the music festival that evening. But Cameron returns from a beer run to find me ill at ease with how things have developed. The first three acts have been entertaining and Micky Newbury is coming up next.
But I've overdone it. The hour 'nap' in the slanted sweatbox was several hours short of what I needed. I return to the tent and pass out.
Cameron — ask not for whom the beer tolls — celebrates having outlasted me by having another beer ... and falling asleep in the lawn chair.
This time, having succeeded in a four-hour nap, I rise from the tent in the darkness of Saturday night. What hour is it? I'm not sure. No watch — it has disappeared.
I finish a bottle of Gatorade and return to my lawn chair. Cameron rises and presses a beer into my hand. I'm in no condition to turn down a bad idea.
We wander down the hill in search of a party and our momentum carries us up Chapel Hill, where we find the second wedding of the day.
A whole Kerrville orchestra and a legion of Kerrverts (the moniker of choice for our fellow festival-goers) serenade the newlyweds. I feel slightly out-of-place, but that's probably because I'm not wearing any pants.
Ah, but it's dark.
Wedding concluded, we make our way down to the hippie flatlands and explore the campfires. Someone wants to know "where in the hell is everyone going at 2 a.m.?"
"It's 2 a.m.?" I ask, answering his question at the same time.
After awhile —the best measurement I can come up with — I return to the tent and listen to the campfire songs from my semi-dry sleeping bag.
In one cosmic moment, two dueling singers from campfires probably 30 yards apart launch into their own choruses at the same time.
Two voices at once come together in an extended "oooooooooooooooo" before splitting into different words. Different worlds, probably.
We had given up. There was one real good reason to stay another 24 hours in Kerrville — Ray Wylie Hubbard was going to play that night.
There were a million reasons to pack up and go home that morning.
Reasons like: We were almost out of beer. And we didn't enjoy pain. We had not paced ourselves well. Or at all, for that matter.
With dawn's decision to leave came The Kerrvert With No Name.
Sunday morning, I was mustering the strength to actually get up when a pair of bloodshot eyes peered into the tent from under a cowboy hat and behind a massive moustache.
"Howdy," I said.
"Howdy," the moustache said back.
The Kerrvert with No Name wasted no time. He abandoned our small talk to walk around the tent and discover our ice chest.
He opened it.
"Oooh! Oooh! Ah! Ooh! Ooooah!"
I was about to tell him to stop having sex with the ice chest when he made clear that he was excited about our Lone Star beer.
He seized one and asked us — politely — if he could have it.
Now who could refuse a man a beer at 7 a.m.?
He opened it, took a drink, and literally howled with enthusiasm. Well, maybe it was more of a bark. Either way, I've never heard a man appreciate a beer so fully.
Cameron — the gracious host — got up to have a beer with him.
After getting dressed, this time, I left the tent to get a good look at our guest. He was wearing a felt hat, blue rodeo T-shirt, some jeans of considerable age and a gient pair of boots. He was no hippie.
But somwhere, this man had obviously blown a fuse.
A bird sang in the distance.
He cocked his head at an improbable angle and told us it was an angry mockingbird.
When the mockingbird — as if on cue — flew to the nearest tree, he walked over and started cussing it.
"You want a piece of me?" he hollered.
The mockingbird didn't.
He wandered back over. Another bird sang.
"Redbird!" he snarled and staggered west, toward another camp.
We were just thinking we were rid of him when the marshmallow went flying by.
"INCOMING!" he yelled.
He had found another campsite's stash of marshmallows and was hiding behind a tent, throwing them at us.
In the face of such weirdness, Cameron and I opened another beer.
The man came back and we exchanged pleasantries. Yes, it was Sunday. Yes, we've been having a good time. We were about to offer him one of the last few beers when he cocked his head at a weird angle again.
A dog was barkin in the distance.
"That's my dog. I must walk this way." And he did.
The Kerrvert With No Name was gone.
Our Kerrville experience was done.