“It can be this way always,” is a familiar refrain at the Kerrville Folk Festival, the three-week hootenanny campout that draws thousands of devoted folkies to Quiet Valley Ranch each May and June. Photographer David Johnson called on the refrain for the title of his new book, a striking collection of black-and-white film images capturing the spirit of the festival—guitars, sandals, tents, caliche dust, and all. Released this month by University of Texas Press, It Can Be This Way Always: Images From the Kerrville Folk Festival, is the culmination of an 11-year project for Johnson, who first attended the fest in 2004 and started taking photos for the project in 2008.
The book’s 81 photos document the faces and scenes of the unconventional annual gathering while also offering a nostalgic documentary record for all the “Kerrverts” who’ve had to miss the festival because of the coronavirus. The 2020 event was canceled, and the 2021 festival will consist of a series of virtual events this May and June.
“It started as a labor of love,” says Johnson, who grew up in Austin and now teaches photography at the University of Iowa in Iowa City. “I didn’t realize it would be such a substantial and important project for my own creative research. I really thought it was a fascinating environment. As the project grew years and years along, it became tied to this concept that defines all of my work, which is how identity informs place and place informs identity, and what those relationships mean.”
No doubt Johnson’s artistic vision and intuitive photographs are just the kind of inspirational fodder that fuels festival-goers as they gather around their campfires late into the night, discussing the world and playing songs intended to make sense of it all. In the absence of the chance to gather at Quiet Valley Ranch at least until the fall, Johnson’s tribute in It Can Be This Way Always serves as both a satisfying fix for old-timers and an intriguing intro for newcomers.