For me, one of the surest indicators of spring is when I leave for my annual trip to Old Settler’s Music Festival. Now in its 31st year, and having moved into new digs near Lockhart, Texas, OSMF epitomizes the perfect festival mix of hot, new acts; crowd-pleasing old favorites; and a crowd size that lets you get around to see all the shows, even with multiple stages, if that’s what you want to do. Here are my highlights from this year’s event.
New & Exciting – This was my first time seeing Austinite band The Deer. Their psychotropic folk was the perfect kick-off to the festival at the campground stage Thursday afternoon. Nashville-by-way-of-California band Front Country kicked off the Friday festivities. Fresh off an IBMA Momentum Award nomination, their string band pop style of bluegrass got the crowd’s attention from the beginning. The winner of the Youth Competition, Sarah Grace & the Soul, put a fresh face on an Americana/R&B mash-up. For sheer energy and instrumental virtuosity though, you can’t beat Billy Strings. Playing 3 sets in less than 24 hours, he was still astonishing people who were catching him for the 3rd time.
Tried & True – Speaking of IBMA, perennial award winners Balsam Range laid down a crowd pleasing set of traditional bluegrass on Saturday after a welcome rain shower interlude. The California Honeydrops brought their funk and soul-laced variety show with its fully saturated horn section. Also in the horn department, Calexico delivered their brand of U.S./Mexico border music that sounded as much at home in central Texas as it does in the band’s Arizona and California origins. For my money, though, it’s hard to top Donna the Buffalo. After decades of playing together, their brand of Cajun/folk/jam band rhythms are impossible to just sit through. You have to get up and move and the music adds its own kind of sunshine to the event.
Picking’ & Grinnin’ – Old Settlers began its life as a bluegrass festival. Organizer Jean Spivey has branched out and clearly has an ear for new talent in multiple genres. But the crowd still likes their pickers and several bands kept disappointment at bay. We Banjo 3, a blend of traditional bluegrass and Irish music was as entertaining as they were musical. Jeff Austin always delivers the goods with his mandolin, and his band can play with him note for note. Austin also teamed up with a couple of the younger McCoury’s and a host of other string band wizards to do a Thursday closing set of Grateful Dead covers, aptly titled the Grateful Ball. Friday night closers, Greensky Bluegrass did their always excellent take on the progressive bluegrass genre, including a super twangy medley of Pink Floyd tunes from Dark Side Of the Moon.
Old Settler’s experienced a little anxiety all the way around this year, seeing as it was the first festival in a brand new venue. But everything came off without any big hiccups and the new location will further entrench OSMF as one of the best experiences you can have for a weekend of Americana music.
About the author: I've actually driven from Tehatchapee to Tonopah. And I've seen Dallas from a DC-9 at night.