Every year at this time, a couple of weeks after all the glitterati have left South By, one of the best music festivals in the country kicks off 20 minutes outside of Austin: the Old Settler’s Music Festival. It’s a great mix of old and new talent, with enough people to get a good vibe going without the crush of humanity and uncaring logistics that come with the more well known events. Here are some highlights from this year’s festival.
Sarah Jarosz Moment – One of the unique things about OSMF is the youth talent contest on Saturday morning. This being Austin, the bar is pretty darn high, witness my reference to Sarah Jarosz who won a few years ago and played with David Grisman and Ricky Skaggs before she could drive. This year’s winner was Grace London, and she’s cut from that same cloth. Covering Jack White and Patsy Cline in back-back numbers, she has a fine sense of material and the vocal chops to go with it.
Bluejazzindiegrass – On the Americana scene perhaps no one is known better for playing different genres of music, but with bluegrass instrumentation, than Bela Fleck. But there’s a new wave of musicians who are taking that riff to new highs. The best examples of that at OSMF were Suzanna Choffel and Warren Hood, not surprisingly 2 of the 3 members of Austin “supergroup” The Coveters. Suzanna played first, doing a dynamite set with Warren joining her for several tunes. But the real deal came in Warren’s set, which ran the gamut from a Fiddler On the Roof-style show tune jam to Stevie Wonder at his best. Add Emily Gimble on keyboard and vocals and this was maybe the best set musically of the weekend.
Audience Participation – A lot of bands these days show some Celtic influence in their songs and shows, whether it’s the “goddamn your eyes and blast your soul to hell” shanty from Rose’s Pawn Shop or the Flogging Molly/Dropkick Murphys speed punk mixed with bluegrass styling of the Trampled By Turtles set. But the bona fides this year went to Gaelic Storm, who had the audience singing and jumping despite the heat of the midday sun. And the riding donkey participation was hilarious (you had to be there…).
Fulfilling High Expectations – There are a few performers, not many in my experience, who show after show after show can be counted on to give a great performance. OSMF was lucky this year to have two of them a few hours apart on Saturday; Tim O’Brien and Sam Bush. Tim’s set was great and everything you expected it to be. But Sam and his band left you gobsmacked. And when Sonny Landreth came out to play guitar on a version of Billy Bob Marley’s One Love, it was everything everyone in the audience hoped for, and more.
Best Festival Moment – Part of what makes a great festival set is not just playing the music, but playing to the crowd. Kevin Russell, leader of The Gourds, knows that well, and he and his band were just short of pulling a coup d’ etat on the Bluebonnet stage Saturday night. They were going to play until they were done playing, time slot be damned. But this year’s winner was Terri Hendrix. She was a last minute addition to the Sunday afternoon show in the campground, but by the end of the set she owned Camp. She played old songs and new songs and even made up an Old Settler’s rap on the spot. Leaping around the stage, playing harmonica and guitar with long-time conspirator Lloyd Maines, she would have been crowd surfing if there had been a mosh pit. There was no place else in the world she’d rather be for any reason, and the audience was all aboard that train. A fabulous ending to a great weekend.
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.