Acoustic Camping

May 2, 2004
Outside Magazine
Outside magazine, May 1996

Acoustic Camping

The summer's best outdoor music festivals
By Peter Nelson

Kerrville Folk Festival
May 23-June 16 at 50-plus-acre Quiet Valley Ranch, nine miles south of Kerrville, Texas.
Tunes: Scheduled headliners this year include Nanci Griffith, Ray Wylie Hubbard, and Peter Yarrow

The Big Picture: This granddaddy of summer music festivals began 25 years ago in the beautiful Texas Hill Country and plays host to 20,000-40,000 campers and concertgoers each year. After the stage lights have dimmed, be prepared to stay up until the wee hours as troubadours strum along in impromptu campfire concerts

Beat the heat. Down Texas 16, about ten miles south of the ranch, a bridge crosses the Medina River where there's a great swimming hole. In Lost Maples State Natural Area (210-966-3413), about 50 miles from Kerrville, hike the loop trail into Mystic Canyon, where temperatures are cooler

Camping: Arrive early at the festival grounds and make a dash for the lower pasture along the dry creekbed; here the temperature can be drastically cooler than in the exposed areas thanks to stands of oak and cedar trees.

Tickets: Prices range from $8 to $20, depending on the day and whether or not you buy them in advance. A three-day pass costs $35. Call 210-257-3600 for information and a schedule of events. Kerrville is about 70 miles northwest of San Antonio

Telluride Bluegrass Festival
June 20-23 at Town Park in downtown Telluride, Colorado.

Tunes: Alison Krauss and Union Station, Bela Fleck and the Fleck Tones, Steve Earle, and Michelle Shocked

The Big Picture: The word is that the star-studded lineup plays so well here because it's so damn pretty, with snowcapped 13,000-foot peaks rising up on three sides. Unlike at festivals that rush acts off the stage, nobody at Telluride plays for less than an hour.

Extracurricular:From the campground, head two miles up switchbacks to Bridal Veil Falls or one mile to Bear Creek Falls for an afternoon break. Most of the ski shops in town rent mountain bikes, or pack your fly rod and fish the San Miguel River, which runs through town.

Camping: Sites in Town Park, where the main stage is, are already sold out, but there are two shuttle-served satellite areas, Mill Creek and West Brewery, with room for 5,000 campers. The fee is $25 per site for the four days.

Tickets: A four-day concert pass costs $120 in advance, $130 at the gate. Telluride is about a seven-hour drive from Denver. For more information, call the festival offices at 800-624-2422.

Falcon Ridge Folk Festival
July 26-28 at Long Hill Farm in Hillsdale, New York, where New York, Massachusetts, and Connecticut meet.

Tunes: Scehduled for the three-day event are Christine Lavin, the Nields, Patty Larkin, and Susan Werner.

The Big Picture: The new kid on the circuit , Falcon Ridge is held on a working horse farm with gently sloping hills and Berkshire views. New England is the heartland of acoustic music, and that's what you hear--the work of literate, cutting-edge, singer-songwriters, worth paying attention to.

Extracurricular: Massachusetts's Bash Bish State Park, five miles away, has miles of hiking trails and a cascade where, if you're crazy (and many are), you can jump from the rocks into the eddy pool.

Camping: Grab a site high atop the hill, or camp five miles south of the farm in Taconic State Park (160 sites, $13 per night; 518-329-3993). Campfires aren't allowed.

Tickets: A three-day ticket costs $42 before June 10, $47 from June 10 to July 15, and $55 at the gate; single-day tickets cost $22-$25 at the gate. For tickets, call 860-350-7472; for information, 860-364-0366. Hillsdale is three and a half hours from New York City.

Strawberry Music Festival
May 23-27 and August 29-September 2 at Camp Mather, on the northwest border of Yosemite National Park.

Tunes: Spring: the Nashville Bluegrass Band, Greg Brown, Laura Love. For fall: Sam Bush, David Lindley, Riders in the Sky, and David Grisman.

The Big Picture: This fest has been going strong since 1982, and its mountain setting is one of the most beautiful places in the world to hear music, with spectacular Sierra views, warm days, and cool nights. Be prepared for snow or rain if you go in May. Music starts outside in the morning and in the evening moves indoors to Amy's Orchid Caf‹.

Extracurricular: For a day trip, head for Hetch Hetchy Dam, six miles up the Hetch Hetchy Road; the reservoir (the water supply for San Francisco) is ringed by miles of hiking trails. In the fall, you can rent horses from the corral in the middle of Camp Mather.

Camping: The best spots are by Birch Lake, but they fill up early. For quieter camping, try the Sunrise Trail-which leads to great views of Tuolumne Canyon-or Coyote Meadow, with its pine and cedar groves.

Tickets: $100 for the whole event, or buy a one-day pass for $30 (tickets usually sell out in advance, so there are rarely any available at the gate). For more information, call the Strawberry offices at 209-533-0191.

Black Mountain Festival
May 24-26 and October 11-13 at Camp Rockmont, in Black Mountain, North Carolina.

Tunes: This year, look for the Del McCoury Band, Jerry Douglas, and Reverend Billy C. Wirtz.

The Big Picture: In its 14th year, this fest is held at a 600-acre boys camp, in a natural amphitheater surrounded by hardwood forest. Originally a celebration of Appalachian music in the cusp of the Black Mountains, the roster has expanded to include more contemporary acoustic performers-playing everything from reggae to swing, bluegrass, and gospel.

Extracurricular: The awe-inspiring Biltmore House is only 15 minutes away, as are Lookout and Grandfather Mountains. The festival office rents canoes for $2 per day, and there's good fishing for perch and trout in the lake.

Camping: Near Lake Eden there are designated quiet, family, and party campsites and 40 bunkhouses, some with lake views, that sleep about nine people each.

Tickets: Three-day passes, which include camping and parking, cost $60 in advance, $70 at the gate. Single-day tickets cost $25. Black Mountain is ten minutes east of Asheville off the Blue Ridge Parkway on Lake Eden Road. For information, call 704-669-6813.

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