Spring has officially arrived mid-April when I make my way to Camp Ben McCulloch and the Salt Lick Pavillon outside of Austin for the Old Settler’s Music Festival. Although from now through early October there’s a big music festival every weekend somewhere in the country, the combination of being the right size, boasting a stellar line-up with plenty of variety, and having a soul of its own makes OSMF an annual highlight for me.
Austin…or Houston – Yes, the festival’s only a half hour from Austin, but this year Houston really made its presence felt with some of its musical natives. Hayes Carll put on a solid show and featured special guest Allison Moorer, and The Suffers did Texas soul music proud. The real winner in this group, though, was Carolyn Wonderland and her band who just tore it up, keeping the rain at bay Saturday afternoon.
My Roots Were Showing – I never got to see The Jayhawks in their chart-topping prime, and had pretty well written off the opportunity. Yet two decades later here they were playing an extra long set every bit as fulfilling as I could have imagined. In a similar vein, when Son Volt burst on the scene after Uncle Tupelo imploded I didn’t make time to hear them. Over the years my appreciation has really grown and the Jay Farrar Trio scratched an itch playing most of Trace in addition to some new material.
Is That What I Think It Is? – The festival kicked off with Michigan-based The Accidentals. They play a fun blend of jazzy bluegrass and country with an obviously unbridled passion. But when they closed their set with a spot-on cover of Rush’s Tom Sawyer, the audience went wild. Friday afternoon, after a Thursday evening traditional bluegrass set, The Hillbenders did a repeat of something SXSW founder Louis Meyers put them up to last year–a bluegrass version of the rock opera Tommy. It was spectacular.
Party On, Wayne – Festival organizer Jean Spivey always does a great job of booking a wide variety of acts, and includes at least a couple of options to get everyone up and on their feet. Brothers Comatose did that in stellar fashion Thursday night with practically the whole campground asking, “who are those guys?” Then on Saturday afternoon Dustbowl Revival got the main stage audience in a raise-your-arms-and-dance mood with their unique reggae/ska/tejano/bluegrass sound.
Best Performance – Della Mae closed out Thursday night with a performance that captured the spirit of OSMF, but I think their Friday afternoon show topped that and was a better example of how this band has gotten better and better. Saturday evening at the Bluebonnet Stage delivered a twofer. First, Milk Carton Kids delivered their patented mix of dry humor and music. Then the Wood Brothers took the stage and lit into a funky, groove-laden finish to a nearly perfect day of music.
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.