Kerrville Folk Festival founder Rod Kennedy died Monday morning, the San Antonio Express-News reported. He was 84.|
Kennedy, who attended the University of Texas in the 1950s, started the renowned hill country festival in 1972 at a time when the 1960s folk revival seemed to be waning. But it became quite successful, with Kennedy enlisting help from good friend Peter Yarrow of Peter, Paul & Mary. It also became an early launching pad for Texas acts such as the Flatlanders, who played the first festival in 1972 with former President Lyndon Johnson in attendance.
Over the next two decades, the Kerrville Folk Festival – held at the Quiet Valley Ranch 10 miles south of downtown Kerrville and about two hours west of Austin – grew into one of the nation's major folk gatherings and one of the largest music festivals of any kind in Texas. The coveted Kerrville New Folk award provided an early-career boost for artists such as Lucinda Williams and Robert Earl Keen.
While the main stage featured a mix of established names and rising hopefuls, much of the magic happened at impromptu after-hours campground jams. Michelle Shocked's breakthrough album, "The Texas Campfire Tapes," was recorded on a Sony Walkman at one of them in the mid-1980s.
In 2008, Kennedy sold the festival to the nonprofit Texas Folk Music Foundation, which continues to operate both the main three-weekend festival centered around Memorial Day and a smaller Labor Day event. This year's festival runs May 22-June 8 with performers including Judy Collins, Steve Forbert, Ray Benson & Milkdrive, Mary Gauthier, Dale Watson and Yarrow.
Former American-Statesman writer Michael Corcoran wrote about Kennedy in 2010 when many artists celebrated Kennedy's 80th birthday with a tribute concert at the Paramount Theatre. We'll have more on Kennedy in Tuesday's newspaper.
Published in Austin American-Statesman on Apr. 15, 2014