Kinky Friedman

August 21, 2020


Longtime family-run haven and home of renowned outlaw-country singer reopening in 2021 as Echo Hill Ranch Gold Star Camp; foundation now raising funds to provide ‘’camperships’’ — and chances for kids to build happy, healing memories

MEDINA, Texas — There’s something special about memories made at summer camp. Just ask any kid who’s been to one. Or ask famed Texas singer-songwriter and novelist Kinky Friedman, who grew up spending idyllic summers at the camp his parents founded in 1953. Beloved directors “Uncle Tom” and “Aunt Min” Friedman ran the 266-acre Echo Hill Ranch for 50 years, and their children operated it for another 10, before the echoes of happy campers’ laughter faded in 2013. 


But Kinky and his sister, Marcie Friedman, wanted to hear that laughter again, particularly from kids who could really use a chance to build happy, positive memories through nature hikes, horseback riding, canoeing and campfire singalongs — kids traumatized from the loss of an active-duty military or first-responder family member. So the Friedmans are resurrecting the Texas Hill Country camp, outside of Kerrville, as the Echo Hill Ranch Gold Star Camp, where children of Gold Star families can experience the healing power of summer-camp fun, free of charge. The siblings have established the nonprofit Echo Hill Ranch Foundation and are raising funds to cover all costs, including travel. (Donations may be made at echohill.org.) The foundation has partnered with several military nonprofits serving those families to identify “campership” candidates. Each of three 10-day sessions slated for 2021 will include 50 to 60 campers ages 8 through 12; the third session is for children of deceased first-responders. 

“The key note is fun — having a good time and meeting some nice people and not worrying about a thing,” Kinky says. “It’s going to be an experience they won’t forget.”


Marcie, a certified camp director who holds a psychology degree from Yale University, adds, “Part of our mission is just for children to relax and be children.”

But as the camp’s website notes, people who have experienced similar life events often forge strong bonds, connected by an understanding only they share. At Echo Hill, Gold Star kids won’t feel like outsiders; for possibly the first time, they’ll be part of a community of kids who can relate to what each other is going through. It’s not a therapy camp, however — except for the therapeutic benefits of noncompetitive skill-building activities, communing with nature (on an officially designated wildlife preserve) and making potentially lifelong friends. 

“They’ll meet some good role models, make good friends and hopefully, come back the next summer,” Kinky says. They might also hear the outlaw-country raconteur and one-time Texas gubernatorial candidate crack jokes or tell a tall tale before serenading them with kid-friendly versions of his irreverent classics, or songs from his newest album, late 2019’s Larry Campbell-produced ResurrectionMaybe he’ll even reenact scenes from the beautiful new video for its second single, “I Love You When It Rains.” (More about those in a bit.)

Kinky’s campfire audiences should expand as the camp family grows; Echo Hill’s 12 bunkhouses can accommodate over 100 campers per session, and Marcie says the goal is to provide a source of stability and continuity where kids can reunite each year, and even train to become volunteer mentors and counselors. (Several alumni have offered to join the all-volunteer camp staff for these sessions; alums also serve on the board, along with representatives from partner military groups.) 


Prior to Echo Hill’s intended 2020 opening, several volunteers, many from area military bases, put thousands of hours into refurbishing structures and sprucing up the property, where Kinky resides with his six dogs (once inhabitants of his former Utopia Rescue Ranch) when he’s not touring. Marcie, a U.S. State Department diplomat who usually works abroad in pre- and post-conflict areas including Vietnam and Afghanistan, has been at Echo Hill since April. Last year, while earning her second master’s degree — this one in international security strategy, from the National Defense University at Fort Bragg, North Carolina — she floated the Gold Star camp idea to some military colleagues. They not only embraced it, they got involved.  


Reciting a favorite quote he attributes to Winston Churchill — “We make a living by what we get; we make a life by what we give” — Kinky explains, “It feels good, and it’s the right thing to be doing.”

The former Peace Corps volunteer can’t wait to share the joys of Echo Hill again. One can hear the wonder still present in his 75-year-old voice when he says, “There’s something magical about this mountain.” 

Kinky and Marcie are planning to share mini-doses of that magic via several “A Day at Echo Hill” events for alumni and other groups, and will announce more details when available. 

Meanwhile, Kinky’s working up new material; after a 40-year gap spent writing detective novels instead of songs, he released newly composed tunes on 2015’s The Loneliest Man I Ever MetHis pen hasn’t run dry since. “I Love You When It Rains,” his second Resurrection single, is a pensive ballad from a man on the reviewing side of his life. Directed by David Von Roehm for Luck Films, the video shows Kinky strolling around his beloved Echo Hill; relaxing on his cabin front porch, cigar in hand and chubby dog at his feet; and surveying accumulated artifacts representing so many cherished memories. It also captures Friedman at pal Willie Nelson’s virtual July 4 picnic, where several artists performed for Web viewers at Nelson’s Luck Ranch in Spicewood Springs, Texas, playing with a band led by guitarist Charlie Sexton(who performed with Campbell in Bob Dylan’sband).

Calling Resurrection 
tasteful acoustic Americana that fills the gap between folk and country with grace” and “Friedman’s best realized album since the mid-’70s,” All Music Guide’s Mark Deming declared, “Friedman the Smart-Ass has given way to Friedman the Philosopher … and the new persona fits him well.”

The Austin Chronicle’s Doug Freeman called Kinky’s Resurrectionsongs “some of the best he’s ever written,” adding, “Whereas sharp humor and shocked satire once formed the foundation for his songs, Resurrection delivers a wisdom of experience, loss, mortality.”

Rhetorically asking, “How did a 75-year-old man do this at a time when even the greats find it tough to come up with more stuff?” Kinky answers, “Step one, be really miserable. Step two, don't ever think, ‘Well, now I'm going to paint my masterpiece’ or ‘I'm going to sit down and write the great American novel.’ Just do it, like you’re chopping wood; like it’s a job. Do it like van Gogh did; his motivation was to pay the rent. That’s the way a great song can be written.” 

He’s almost done writing songs for his next album, including collaborations with Campbell and Chuck E. Weiss; the latter is titled “See You Down the Highway” — a line Kinky got from Willie. As for their duet on Resurrection’stitle tune, Kinky reveals, “I’ve seen men cry listening to it. Resurrection, to me, is more than a religious event. It’s picking yourself up when you’re down and out, when everybody’s counted you out and you’re riding really low. Can you get back up there? Can you do it? That’s resurrection.” 

Releasing some of his finest work and preparing to offer many kids a respite from the pain of loss — while readying publication of Double Trouble,his 20th and, he claims, final mystery novel, and even playing Hayseed Schwartz, manager to Gary Busey’sUncle Drank, in an upcoming animated comedy podcast for Dennis Quaid’sAudio Up production company — may not exactly qualify as resurrection, but it adds some nice chapters to a life that stands as proof that it’s never too late to start new pages. 

Donating to Echo Hill Ranch Gold Star Camp:Tax-deductible donations cover operating costs including food, program supplies, camper travel, staff training, animal care and infirmary supplies. Credit/debit cards or Paypal may be used to donate at 
echohill.org. Checks to Echo Hill Ranch Gold Star may be mailed to Echo Hill Ranch Inc., 965 Echo Hill Road, Medina TX 78055. Volunteers are also needed in various areas; for more information about donating or volunteering, email info@echohill.orgor military.outreach@echohill.org

Echo Hill Ranch Gold Star Camp links
Facebook: @echohillranch
Twitter: @EchoHillRanch
Instagram: echohillgoldstar

Kinky Friedman links
“I Love You When It Rains”video
kinkyfriedman.bandcamp.com(CD or download purchases)
Facebook: @kinkyfriedmanofficial
Twitter: @FriedmanKinky
Instagram: kinkyfriedmanofficial
YouTube: Kinky Friedman
Email: office@backandbellymusic.com


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