Sunday, June 10, 2012

Dirt Girl Does Texas: Songs, Dust and Random Finds

Careful readers of Dirt Girl Unleashed have been warned that from time to time I may dig into other topics herein. Topics such as songwriting, which is another of my passionately explored avocations. Therefore this post recounts my recent trip to the Texas hill country to compete in the Kerrville Folk Festival’s New Folk songwriting competition. I did not bring either of my fine Tesoro metal detectors with me as I had NO ROOM to pack them.

For those of you for whom this tangent is simply unacceptable, I will enliven my tale with pictures from completely unrelated metal detecting excursions.  We’ll see how it goes. (And there may be a wee spot of hot, throbbing MD action at the end, if you are very good and read every word. And eat your peas.)

First some background. I have been submitting songs to the New Folk competition sporadically since the mid-1990s, when I began writing songs; I’d never been a finalist and had pretty much given up. But this year, decided to try One More Time; this time was the charm.

I will leave the entire discussion of how weird it is to “compete” in songwriting for another time. Songs, by their nature – as expressions of the longings and complexities of the human spirit – are by their nature perfect and beautiful. Or are they? I have not quite figured it out.

The Kerrville Folk Festival is a biggie, in its 41st year. I was last there in the early ‘90s as a backup singer, so I wasn’t entirely unfamiliar with the extraordinary, surreal, musical and social meta-organism that it is. Stretching over three weekends in late May and early June, Kerrville attracts thousands of folkies who camp together in happy, dusty delirium. Many regard it as a sort of annual pilgrimage and have been coming for decades.  Over the years, small communities have sprung up; there are dozens of named campsites – Camp Coho, Camp Cuisine, Camp Kaffeine, and Camp Bayou Love (say it fast) to name just a few. These are often quite elaborate, festooned with decorations and solar powered Christmas lights. Each night, the common areas become song circles that can last all night.

Once my friend, fellow songwriter (and previous New folk winner) Kathy Hussey, learned that I’d be going to Kerrville this year, she decided to come too, and guide me gently through the process. I shall be forever grateful to her. It was through her that I ended up at Camp SingKerrnicity, down in the Lower Meadow.

We arrived on Wednesday, May 23 in the late afternoon, after landing in San Antonio and renting a massive white jeep. (Kathy has very battable eyelashes which translate into impressive car rental upgrade skills.)

Our rental car did not look like this.

What a cutie. 

Got beer. Set up tents, and I blew up my mattress with a foot pedal, which I know sounded like I was having crazy, wheezing sex inside my tent all by myself. Adjusted my brain and comfort level to camping mode.

Camping at SingKerrnicity means two big, fancy meals a day (I paid for them in advance) and the first night’s fare was etoufee. Not exactly wieners and beans, and I was very grateful. The competition wasn’t until the weekend so I had a few days to acclimate. Soon, we settled into an agreeable routine.

A routine that did not involve little, tiny guns like this one.

Bang, bang.

Up by 9ish (the sun toasts you out of your tent pretty quick). Coffee and breakfast. Then off for a swim in the Medina River which is cold and clean and lovely. (You want to stay at the river as long as possible because mid-day at the fest features a lot of dust and aimless wandering around looking for shade of any sort.) Get back by 6, have a lovely meal with lovely people at your campsite, then head up to one of two stages for the evening’s entertainment.

For example, Thursday night, I particularly enjoyed Guy Forsythe, from Austin. I also enjoyed a strawberry milkshake. Thirdly, Kathy and I enjoyed a vigorous dance to some wacky Russian folk music.

Here’s me, dancing to the Russian band Limpopo.

Get down tonight, baybeeee.

Then the real fun begins: campfires and song circles all over the place. Some loud and crazy, some quiet and gentle. Some featuring all original songs, some featuring Brown Eyed Girl and Margaritaville.  You just walk around with your guitar slung over your shoulder, looking for an empty chair and some likeminded folkies. You do this until your lack of sleep renders you senseless and dopey. Then: sweet tenty slumber. Hah. You hope. Earplugs help.

The New Folk competition takes place over two days during the Memorial Day weekend: two sets Saturday and two on Sunday in the Threadgill Theater.

I was to perform my two songs on Saturday afternoon -- the closing slot of the first set -- and was pretty nervous all that morning. Lots of time spent calming down. Breathing, stretching, keeping control of my brain, running through lyrics. Lots of liquids. I just love Gatorade. I don’t care about the high fructose corn syrup. That stuff is like yummy plasma.

When it was my turn to go, I just went out and did my two songs: one about a woman in a divorce court (an experience I had one time) and another about a woman who wants her husband to just make dinner once in a while (an experience I have had on multiple occasions). I didn’t have any major flubs and people seemed to like what I did, so I felt if not confident, then satisfied that I didn’t mess up in any royal sense. Enjoyed hearing all the other contestants. There were some really excellent performances.

Best of all, my cousin John and his partner Jimmie, drove all the way from Houston to cheer me on.

Here they are. I love them!

Family is everything. Well, family
and metal detecting.

The winners were announced on Sunday night at the Mainstage and miracle of miracles, Your Dirt Girl was chosen as one of the winners of New Folk 2012. I was rather happy about it.

This, however, brought with it a new responsibility: winners have to stay at Kerrville and perform the following weekend. Or you can go home and come back but that didn’t seem to make much sense. After much hemming and hawing with my hub over the phone, it was decided that I would stay on the Happy Valley Ranch (as it is called) for ANOTHER WEEK. Al (hub) would join me for the winners concert on Sunday, June 3.

Kathy and my other Nashville friends went back to their houses, spouses, pets, air conditioners and BATHROOMS in Tennessee and I hunkered down in the sun to write songs, meet people and learn how to balance my well-deserved pride in my accomplishment (a new feeling for me) with feelings of intense loneliness and physical discomfort.

Here's me sweating in my tent.

The problem with camping is the lack
of a handy flat iron. Note the unruly bangs.

 Three days thus passed. I will add that throughout my stay I met some amazingly brilliant, kind and generous people and heard more than my share of inspiring songs. I was humbled about every five minutes.

At the nadir of my sweating, a very nice lady named Liz loaned me her LEXUS and I drove to the town of Kerrville and ate the most delicious spinach enchiladas ever. Much of their deliciousness was due to their being served in an air-conditioned restaurant.

I ate the enchiladas with a fork that resembled this one, pulled from a field in middle Tennessee.

It's forkin' awesome, dude.

After dinner, I drove the Lexus to a grocery store and stocked up. Al was coming!

The next day, he arrived and got hugged harder than he has been hugged in a long time. I’m not sure he recognized the wire-haired, dust-covered creature that seemed permanently adhered to his neck but he was quite good-natured about it.

That night, we sang and played together in really lovely song circle made even more special by the appearance of Peter "Puff the Magic Dragon" Yarrow who hugged everyone there and was so sweet.

Spent Saturday at the river and rehearsing.

Sunday we performed a 25-minute set at the New Folk concert which was much fun.

Here we are.

The Hills are alive, if looking down.

Afterwards, there were group pictures and lots of friendliness. 

I'm in the center feeling a little out of my league,
but hanging in there. No one seems to notice.

Here we are with awesome bassist Freebo, who was super nice and liked Al's guitar tones. I like Al's guitar tones too. Very much.

Freebo, Dirt Girl, Al

Monday… home to Nashville.

Which brings us to … METAL DETECTING!!! (See? You read all that music stuff and now you get a nice treat.)

I’ll be brief. It took me a few days to catch up on all the work I’d missed, but Saturday I was itching to get out there. Cheryl and Doug have used my absence to pretty much remove all Civil War artifacts from the ground but I felt I had to at least make an effort.

Cheryl and I met at a location in middle Tennessee, the property of a friend who owns hundreds of acres of beautiful land.

Right away, I found this…

Whose buckle was this?

The guy whose property it was had a good question. "Why are all these buckles in the ground?" He's got a point. Did men in the woods 200 years ago just get mad at their belts and throw them on the ground and stomp off without them? Was there a mass pants-dropping? We may never know.

Then we got on four wheelers (or whatever you call them) and went for a hair-raising “ride” through the woods to another site. Cheryl drove, bless her heart. Despite my best intentions, I am a city girl and this ride involved quite a bit of screaming for which I apologize. Here are some verbal eruptions with which I polluted the Tennessee woods:

“MAMACITAAAAAA” (that was a weird one. I have never said that before.)

Anyway, it was really fun. I only picked off three ticks.

Back home, I wasn’t ready to quit and went back out to Brush Hill Road to a yard I’ve dug dozens of times. Got this.

This is the prettiest, most ladylike button
I have ever found. I wuv it.

It was perfect.