As the first night of this year”s Old Settler”s Music Festival was just swinging into high gear, the Infamous Stringdusters took the stage. Andy Falco marched up to the microphone and said, “Wow, feels like we”ve been cooped up all winter”. That pretty well captured the moment. They then launched into a version of the John Hartford classic Steam Powered Aereo Plane and followed that up with U2″s In God”s Country. From there they moved into their own material, an aural lava lamp of jams and solos between and among various members of the band. It was an absolutely fabulous beginning to the festival season.
Here are a few of the other highlights for me at this year”s event.
The Rock God – By early evening Friday, everything was in full swing and the Americana groove was in full bloom. Then, Alejandro Escovedo took the stage and delivered an uppercut to the collective conscious of the crowd. The first few songs of the set were from his newest album, Street Songs Of Love, and they rock. Head banging, air guitar inducing, pile driving rock. He also played a few songs from earlier albums, most notably the recent collaboration with Chuck Prophet, but the evening belonged to the guitars. This is the Alejandro that first garnered attention a couple of decades ago. If the upcoming tour is anything like the show he put on last weekend, you have to catch it when it comes to your town.
Can I Have An Amen – Earlier in the day Friday, Ruthie Foster held court on the main stage. As the Ray Charles of this decade, Ruthie manages to bottle the inspirational nature of gospel and package it into a soulful collection of folk and Americana, with some good old-fashioned rhythm-and-blues thrown in. Nothing new about that to her fans, but it”s not easy pulling off a revival in open field with an on-again-off-again drizzle. Nonetheless, that”s just what she did.
Not Dead Yet – OK so maybe that”s a cheap pun, but there”s no way to write about the best moments of the weekend without including the new project/group from Bill Kreutzmann and Papa Mali, 7 Walkers. It”s like if Bob Marley had played with the Dead and they were based in New Orleans. They played a magical set Saturday night after the storms had passed, finishing with the eponymous song, 7 Walkers, that was a fitting climax for an hour”s worth online casino of boogie, jamming, and musical spectacle. The encore of Sugaree was just icing on the cake.
Honorable Mentions – Any and every festival has some shining performances that, while not encompassing a full set, still provide memories and snapshots that characterize the event. Two of my favorites were Peter Rowan”s set early Saturday afternoon and Brave Combo”s close on Thursday night. Peter Rowan has been playing folk festivals nearly as long as they”ve been in existence. But his high harmonies and melodious reaches high into the soprano range belie his true age. Close your eyes and it could have been 1970 as easily as 2010. Given Old Settler”s takes place in the Texas Hill Country, I”m sure Brave Combo knew they weren”t going too far out on a limb with their selection of songs, but a series of polkas as the clock neared midnight was spot on with the still generous crowd in the campground as the Thursday night show wrapped up.
Damn the Torpedos – Finally, I have to give the best set of the festival award to Band of Heathens. Taking the stage late Saturday afternoon, the rain had already accelerated into a steady downpour. With an admonition that “may as well have some fun now since you can”t get any wetter”, they lit into their show. They were flat out tearing it up when midway through the set the storm turned into something out of a Charleton Heston movie. The stage manager told them the power had to be cut for safety reasons, but just before they lost their mic the Heathens told the audience they”d play acoustic if people would stick around. And that”s just what they did, finishing out a set with all acoustic instruments out on the front of the stage in the pouring rain. In my book they”re the new gold standard for “the show must go on”.
So there you have it. Another year, another Old Settler”s Music Festival to kick things off right. Go out and listen to some music under the sun and stars this summer.
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.