Once again I made it out to the campground across the highway from the Salt Lick BBQ near the small town of Driftwood, TX, for the Old Settler’s Music Festival. Here are the highlights from what I saw this year.
Never A Disappointing Performance Award – Old Settler’s started out as a bluegrass festival, and it proudly maintains one foot solidly in its heritage, even as it gets better and better at reflecting the best in today’s roots and Americana. The Travelin’ McCoury’s delivered a great set on the Bluebonnet stage on Saturday, and then Del joined them later in the day on the main stage. No disrespect to Ronnie, but Del McCoury is still the consummate entertainer even as he was a little bit horse from previous performance in the cold. But the real winner here is Sam Bush. I’ve seen him many times and have high expectations that he always manages to exceed. This year’s set was tilted toward a 70’s rock sound, but that was just the delivery vehicle for a brilliant display of musical prowess.
Audience Participation Trophy – This was Boston-based Session Americana‘s first appearance in Austin, but they correctly judged the sentiment of the crowd Thursday night at the campground with the Dead’s Brown Eyed Woman that quickly became a sing-along. Then Friday afternoon, with virtually no one in the crowd having heard it before, they delivered a frenzied, audience-backed Beer Town. The trophy has to go to Gaelic Storm, however. With a mix of rock and roll and Celtic pub songs they had the crowd pumping fists, and finished their set with a 9-year old from the audience doing the running-leap-to-smash-the-cymbal finish. No one could stop grinning.
Best Cover Song – Returning heroine Sarah Jarosz brought along guitarist extraordinaire Anthony De Costsa and played much of her Grammy-winning Undercurrents. Toward the end of the set she noted Prince had passed a year ago to the day and brought out her mandolin to do a searing When Doves Cry. The ability to own someone else’s song has to go to Elephant Revival. Much of the crowd seemed new, but wildly appreciative, to their jazzy, ethereal sound. But they brought the house down when they hit the first notes of Have A Cigar.
We’re In Good Hands – While Del McCoury and Peter Rowan carried the torch of experience, there were all kinds of examples of why the newest generation of pickers is going to keep us in great music for a long time. I wrote last week about all the talent in the youth competition, and it didn’t disappoint this year either. Sophie Scott, of Staines, England, beat out the locals for youth winner. Local kids (and already legends with one not yet out of high school) the Peterson Brothers delivered an amazing blues and R&B set that was part Isaac Hayes, part Stevie Ray Vaughn and part Stanley Clarke. Billy Strings wasn’t going to let the Peterson’s steal his thunder, though. Featuring guests Dom Fisher from Wood & Wire and Andrew & Emily from Mandolin Orange, Billy showed why he has all the buzz now as maybe the best flat picker in the country.
So, as always, great music in a great location. Mark your calendars for the third weekend in April next year.
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.