3. Friends of Bill W at Kerrville

| April 18, 2014 | 2 Replies
Imagine 50-100 ex-drunks and druggies sitting around together here. It works, sometimes just barely, but it works!

Imagine 50-100 ex-drunks and ex-druggies sitting around together here, getting along and sharing experience, strength, and hope. 

That first festival came around after I had seven months of sobriety under my belt. In those seven months between October 1980 and May 1981, I had become very used to getting in-town help from my 12-step friends, nightly and sometimes during the day as well. The prospect of going 5 or 6 days without a 12-step meeting scared me, somehow. And I told Rod Kennedy, producer and boss, that.

His response was simple and quick. He got into the solution instantly, saying, “Why not start having meetings here, during the festival?”

He suggested the shady area behind the festival office, which would also have made them behind outhouses in the same area. Convenient, as sometimes some necessities come upon us during meetings.

By then, there were volunteers coming onto the ranch, getting it ready for the upcoming Folk Festival. I asked some of them to paint signs, “Friends of Bill W. 1 p.m. daily behind office,” signs. They did, and posted them at the Kerrtry Store (sort of like a 7-11 only not as glamorous), and elsewhere around the grounds. Other volunteers sawed up tree trucks and placed them in a sort of conversation circle beneath the trees, then nailed on 2×6 to make benches.

A sign was put up backstage and Rod announced the meeting nightly during the festival.

There were five people at the first meeting. Five people in recovery from drugs or alcohol, who took solace in meeting each other and knowing they would have a face to find or a hug or handshake to help them through what could be tough times ahead.

That was May 1981, regardless of what the well-intentioned, wood-burned sign says out there now. “Serenity Square, Est. 1983.”  Uh-uh… 1981.

A sober couple from the town group came out every day, not for the meeting, but to bring me a home-cooked lunch. Glen drove it out, asking at the office door, “Jeet?” The first time I had to ask, “Huh?” and he smiled and slowed it down to “Did you eat?” Lillian was an incredible, old-fashioned type cook, the kind that smothered everything in gravy and lots of vine-ripened tomatoes on the side.

Signs like this are placed all around the campgrounds, backstage, and elsewhere where they can get the message out.

Signs like this are placed all around the campgrounds, backstage, and elsewhere where they can get the message out.

Once, as the 12-steppers gathered for the daily meeting, they found a performer sound asleep on a 2×6, his hands with green-painted fingernails supporting his head. He was quite surprised to be wakened like he was, and ducked out of there pretty quickly, saying he was only leaving because he was “thinking of others.”  Another time, I used the area for a “Good-bye, you-don’t-get-to-volunteer-here-any-longer” conversation with a couple of brothers who had used and gotten into a fight with each other. I stayed serene… And those two soon got clean of their drugs and joined the group at a future festival. They became good friends and essential staff volunteers.

Also, that first year, a recovering friend from Austin, Buddy, had become a great source of strength for me. I asked, he said yes. No, not to marriage, silly. He agreed to work the VIP check-in desk just outside the office door. That way, when I went coo coo from stress or even from getting so much love from so many people, someone would go get Buddy, and he’s settle me down, speaking in the language of Bill W.

One performer took the Serenity Square idea to a festival he regularly played in the Northwest, on the Pacific. Don’t know if that one is still going on or not. Would love to know. Other than that, I believe that “Friends of Bill W.” meetings at music festivals is unique to Kerrville Festivals.

Nowadays, there’s two meetings each day in Serenity Square, the first still at 1 p.m. and another when the concert is over, and multitudes more than five people at each one of them. Some newcomers, some oldtimers, some volunteers, some performers, some ticket-holders. One who attends regularly now was “in his cups” when he helped paint the signs, and wondered, he said later, just what in the Sam Hill “Friends of Bill W” was, anyway. He found out. Just took him a year or two longer.



Category: MJ's Story/ Blog

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  1. Val Stinson says:

    Thank you for this bit of history; Serenity Square has save my butt more than once.

  2. Ted D. says:

    Hi Mary Jane, I remember these early days quite well. I was selling “Kerrchief” bandanas from a booth at the theater and was a staff volunteer for 7 years. I had seen the signs “Friends of Bill W.” around the ranch and thought he was a folk singer. The next year, I was court ordered to attend meetings and talked my probation officer into letting me continue my yearly pilgrimage to the festival if I could attend a daily meeting. Little did I know that these meetings would change my life. You were a good friend to have and I always wanted to thank you for your support in my early days of sobriety. I occasionally make it back to the festival and always love going to the 1pm meeting. My best regards, Ted D.

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