I write you now from Kerrville Folk Festival, where I had the incredible honor to be part of the New Folk Class of 2013 – a group of 31 acts who were selected out of more than 700 applicants by nearly 40 different listeners to share two songs with what was billed to be the “best audience you may ever play for.” Let me assure you, this was no joke. We played to the most beautiful, shining, loving, 650-person packed house. And they were nearly leaning forward, with ears ready to listen and appreciate every word, chord, melody…
Despite this incredibly supportive audience, I was still scared out of my pants. You see, this event is also billed as a songwriting competition. Now mind you, I don’t really buy into the whole competition thing – I do submit my songs to them, almost out of habit, as they are really helpful for exposure - but I think competition is a great way to get a bigger, more attentive audience to watch [as the drama unfolds]. I mean, what folkie doesn’t like a little dramatic tension (and what person would sit through 6 hours of music without it)?!
The whole time leading up to my set, I was saying to myself, “Breathe, Bethel, breathe… breath to the belly.” The “competition” was split up between two days, judged by three judges (bless their hearts) – Betty Soo, Aengus Finnan, and Nels Andrews. I played on the first day, two-thirds through the afternoon. As I was waiting in the wings, I felt like I was going to puke on my shoes and I wasn’t even sure that my fingers were going to work or my knees were going to hold up.
An incredible thing happened as soon as I stepped on stage behind the microphone, though. I took a deep breath, sighed out loud (to which the audience giggled a bit), and really looked out into the sea of people ready to take a journey with me. I could see familiar faces, and could feel the love and support that these folks were sending my way. As soon as I took that time and started to play, everything fell into place.
I played my two songs, struggled to not cry tears of joy every time I smiled big and my tear ducts were under pressure of my smiling muscles and left everything on the stage. As soon as I finished up my set and walked off, Rod Kennedy, the founder of Kerrville Folk Festival, reached out to me, said “Beautiful, thank you,” to which I began to outright ball. (Thanks, Rod.) After thanking him and drying my tears, some of my favorite folks came by to hug me, which made me cry even more. Thank goodness for friends, tears and feelings of whelm.
I was grateful to be able to sit in the audience the following day (as opposed to not being able to sit for more than 30 seconds at any given moment for the day before) and cheer on all of my friends, new and old.
On Sunday night after all of us had played, we stood in solidarity together in the back of the audience during the main stage performance as Dalis (Kerrville’s programmer extraordinaire) stood next to Betty, Aengus and Nels to announce the 6 “winners” of the competition to the crowd. My name was not called, and neither were 24 others’, and it almost didn’t matter. To be honest, I respect all of my cohort so much, that I feel like the judges could have just drawn 6 names out of a hat and I would have felt the same way – joyful and grateful to be where I am, part of this incredible event and excited for the named “winners.”
Now, a few days removed from the competition, I’m still on the ranch. I’m happy to stay up until the wee hours of the morning sharing songs with friends - the songwriters I admire without the weight of competition on my shoulders and an incredible experience under my belt that ranks in the most memorable moments in my life.