I’m from northern California where “layering” your clothing is a mantra more than a conscious thought. Sure came in handy this year for Old Settler’s Music Festival in Driftwood (Austin), Texas, where there was driving rain, freezing cold (at least it felt that way), and warm, late-spring sunshine. Oh, and lots of good music, which doesn’t really have anything to do with the weather. By the way, that Driftwood address is important since the festival grounds are next door to the world famous Salt Lick BBQ.
For those of you not familiar with Old Settler’s, it’s kind of an anti-SXSW: no crowds, no hordes of industry hangers-on, no $8 beers. But there is a lot of good music. Here are a few of my highlights of the festival.
Best New Addition to the Band
A lineup change to The Waybacks has added Warren Hood to the group that exemplifies the term “Americana”. With the guitar playing of James Nash, the combination of Hood and Nash made for a strong stride in a new direction I really like.
Most Enjoyable History Lesson
Mid way through his set, David Grisman took everyone on a trip through the history of bluegrass with some original tunes by The Carter Family, Bill Monroe, and Flatt & Scruggs. It was a great reminder of the virtuosity of some of those early pioneers, not to mention a good warm-up for Ralph Stanley the next day.
Best Non-Americana Performance
For the past few years, the brain trust for OSMF has been expanding out past the early focus on bluegrass and folk. (Thanks again to Jean Spivey and her crew for the great line-up.) This year I thought the standout performer was Betty Lavette. She’s still playing the whiner card a bit between songs, but when she starts belting out country tunes in her neo-Motown style, you forgive her immediately. Also honorable mention to Charlie Musselwhite for reminding me how much I loved the blues clubs when I lived in Chicago.
Best Spoken Word Performance
OK, so Marty Stuart and his band The Fabulous Superlatives played a great set of music. Two, actually, since they did a semi-impromptu set on the Discovery Stage. However, Marty’s description of life as a country musician and the emotional tribute to his friend and neighbor, Johnny Cash, turned a good musical performance into a more holistic experience.
Most Acclaimed New Artist
At the ripe old age of 17, Sarah Jarosz has become a fixture at OSMF. The wider world of music is beginning to appreciate her talent now, and with her “band” of Alex Cordova(?) and Sam Grisman (son of *that* Grisman) she put on a show that lived up to the hype. Honorary mention to Emily Elbert, who won last year’s talent competition and has improved an already pretty spectacular vocal capability. Watch next year for The Fire Ants, this year’s talent winner.
Best Overall Performance
No doubt my most controversial pick, I’m going with Flounders Without Eyes. When the easy route was going back to camp to huddle against a fire with temps in the upper 40’s, FWE kept a few hundred die-hards warm with a classic jam band performance. Special guests Peter Rowan and some of the Green Mountain Grass pickers were seamless integrated into a mix of new and old, originals and covers. Special mention also goes to New Monsoon for their Saturday night 2-hour set.
About the author: I've actually driven from Tehatchapee to Tonopah. And I've seen Dallas from a DC-9 at night.