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Sunday, May 29, 2022

The Story of the First Kerrville Folk Festival

Kenneth Threadgill and band performing at the very first
Kerrville Folk Festival, Kerrville Municipal Auditorium, June, 1972

Texas Arts & Crafts Fair, Kerrville, 1972
Years ago, the late Rod Kennedy gave me a remarkable document: a program from the first Texas State Arts & Crafts Fair (of which the first Kerrville Folk Festival was a part).
It is remarkable for many reasons: its words, pictures and design evoke a spirit that thrived in this place in the summer of 1972. From the welcoming letters printed in the front of the book from Governor Preston Smith, Schreiner Junior College and Preparatory School President Sam Junkin, and the first Executive Director of the Arts & Crafts Fair, Phil Davis (of the Texas Tourist Development Agency), all the way to the list of exhibitors (including my dad and an old platen printing press) – you can tell that Kerrville was on the ball, making a difference for itself in the state. It’s refreshing to read the program, filled with its optimism and state public-relations department text.
Carolyn Hester, 1972
That first fair ran for 6 days, starting on a Tuesday and running through Saturday, on the campus of Schreiner Institute. Admission was $1.00 for adults and 50 cents for children. Parking was free. Rod Kennedy produced the first Kerrville Folk Festival June 1, 2, and 3 (Thursday through Saturday) at the Kerrville Municipal Auditorium, with a $2.50 per person admission. Other things were going on during the same time: Schreiner Institute offered a production of “You’re a Good Man, Charlie Brown,” and the Hill Country Arts Foundation had a Neil Simon comedy, “Come Blow Your Horn.” 
The program is filled with ads for the expected restaurants and hotels – but also packed with ads for real estate. I wonder how many families came to the fair, bought property here, and made Kerrville their home.
I was 10 years old during that first fair and festival, but I remember it clearly. During the day I helped Mom and Dad at the tent where our old iron letterpress was on display (and running, printing maps of the fair), helping man the front desk in the tent. We were the first tent inside the entrance, and we printed a ton of maps right there. I sure wish I had one of those old maps. 
Darrell Royal, Lady Bird, LBJ at first KFF
I also remember it was blazing hot. Lady Bird Johnson attended one of those early fairs. I gave her a map.
Phil Davis wanted to have music at the fair, so he contacted Rod Kennedy, then a music producer and radio station owner in Austin.
I remember attending the first Kerrville Folk Festival, at the Kerrville Municipal Auditorium, listening to performers like Peter Yarrow, Allen Damron, Kenneth Threadgill and Carolyn Hester. I’m afraid I didn’t make it through the entire show, falling fast asleep after a hard day at the fair. Ladybird and Lyndon Johnson attended the folk festival that evening, too, along with Darrell Royal.
A lot of folks worked hard to get the fair to Kerrville; it was a real community effort.
This year marks the 50th anniversary of the Kerrville Folk Festival, and it will be quite an event. If you’ve never been, you ought to give it a try. Tell them Joe sent you.
Until next week, all the best.

Joe Herring Jr. is a Kerrville native who remembers how hot it was during that first festival.  This column originally appeared in the Kerrville Daily Times May 28, 2022.

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