In the middle of April, a few weeks after the madness of SXSW, one of the more under appreciated events on the Austin music scene happens about 30 miles southwest of town; The Old Settler’s Music Festival. Here are some of the highlights from this year’s festivities.
Who Was That Band? Festivals like this always have impromptu appearances by various musicians in sets by their friends. OSMF is certainly no exception. The best one I saw was half of Milk Drive sitting in for much of the Wood & Wire set on Thursday night. Very appropriate that this was at the campground stage as late night jamming at OSMF is how Wood & Wire got together. A somewhat surprising set on Saturday late afternoon as The Reivers took the stage to promote their first album in 22 years. But the clear winner in this category was Casey Driessen and his Singularity project. Featuring, well, no one but himself, he managed to extract virtually every instrument out of his fiddle except horns. And that was probably just because he didn’t want to show off. Half the people back stage were fiddle players.
Rock and Roll!!! Although ostensibly, at least originally, a bluegrass festival, OSMF director Jean Spivey does a magnificent job of mixing up the music and keeping things fresh. There’s always a little rock and roll and this year was no exception. Son Volt played a set that reminded you of who put the Alt in Country. After seeing The Dunwells here and last fall in a Friday-evening-in-the-park appearance in Nashville, I have to say these guys are just one brief hit from the arena circuit. But I don’t think anyone topped Jerry Douglas and his band for rocking out the crowd. Playing a number of songs from his recent Traveler album that featured nobodies like Eric Clapton and Dr. John, Douglas was bringing it home.
Old Is New Traditional Americana music is a key ingredient of OSMF and there are always highlights here. Della Mae put on awesome shows both Thursday night and Friday afternoon. The Carolina Chocolate Drops had the crowd besides themselves dancing to everything from Haitian a capello to a version of the Johnny Cash/June Carter hit, Jackson. My favorite, though, was Elephant Revival with its blend of Billie Holiday-era jazz and modern folk that comes across as a sort of updated Fairport Convention.
New Is Old Not far from traditional Americana is the idea of putting a new spin on an old classic. The Giving Tree Band had their feet planted firmly in the 70’s with their covers of The Band, The Faces, and The Grateful Dead in one ecstatic 3-song romp on Thursday night that had the campground sparking it up. The Gourds did an awesome version of Werewolves of London in their closing set Saturday night. But the highlight here was definitely Peter Rowan covering Peter Rowan with a salsa version of Panama Red that was so in-the-moment for a sun-soaked Saturday afternoon.
Top Showman If you spend much time at festivals you start to gain an appreciation for how some musicians can just charm a crowd with their presence and charisma. You have to give kudos to Slim Richey, a fixture on the Austin music scene, for pulling together a last minute fill-in band to cover a cancellation that featured Dennis Ludiker of Milk Drive. They were having so much fun it was contagious. It’s hard to top Kevin Russell and The Gourds for a party band that flat-out owns any venue they play. On this beautiful weekend in April, though, the honors went to Fred Eaglesmith and his Traveling Steam Show. Part 60’s blues review (with the band dressed to generate the heat for steam), part vaudeville with Fred’s corny jokes, and part political tent revival, their closing shows Thursday night and Friday night were a spectacle.
About the author: Support new music. Listen to a band or singer you've never heard of this week. I've been doing that for over 30 years.