Tucked away in the Hill Country just southwest of Austin next to some of the best BBQ in the country, music lovers gathered for a weekend of good camping and great music at The Old Settler’s Music Festival. In it’s 27th year, Old Settler’s is a nationally-known celebration of Americana and roots music in all its forms. This year KindWeb KindBand and long time friend of the festival, Del McCoury came out to play a set and celebrate his 75th birthday. North Mississippi Allstars also played a set.
Held over 4 days from April 10th - 13th, there were a total of 30 bands, many of whom played multiple sets. With highs in the mid 80’s and lows in the upper 50’s, it was great weather for a festival and for camping. A short shuttle ride away from the main stage, Camp Ben Mcculloch made for some great camping for those roughing it in primitive camping and those with RV’s. There was everything you would expect at a camping festival such as such as food vendors, ice sales and surprisingly, hot showers! At night after the shows, one could walk the campground and come across many groups of musicians gathered around fires with their banjos, mandolins, stand up bass, guitars and more. The level of talent displayed by the musicians was amazing.
Those at the main festival grounds were teased with the smells of The Salt Lick BBQ wafting over. Fortunately for the festival-goers, The Salt Lick had a pavilion for anyone who couldn’t resist the urge to indulge. If BBQ isn’t your thing, you could easily find all the foods you’d expect at a festival. From wood-fired pizza and fried PB&J to falafel and funnel cakes there was something to be had by everyone. Most importantly, the beer was ice cold and the wine just right which was perfect for sitting back in your camp chair and listening to the great music that played between two main stages.
For those arriving on Thursday for the full camping and festival experience, the Campground stage started up around 4:20 and went until midnight. Front Country, St. Paul and the Broken Bones and Donna The Buffalo were just a few of the acts that got the crowd out of their chairs and dancing. When the official acts were over, the crowds dispersed back to their camps and musicians came out of the woodwork to sit around campfires picking bluegrass well into the morning.
Friday started a lot like Thursday ended: early morning “Dueling Banjos” with the sounds and smells of breakfast cooking all around. A great way to start the day. Walking through the grounds listening to all the Musicians, one had to wonder if there was more talent in the camps than on stage. If sitting around a camp isn’t your thing, you could spend some time in Onion Creek, an apparent favorite of the kids. The creek was a bit low to use the rope swing but not so low you couldn’t have a soak in it. Once the morning came and went, it was time to get back on the shuttle and head back to a great day of music.
Each year there is a Youth Competition where aspiring musicians play for the crowd. The winner gets to open Friday festivities of the following year. This year’s opener was Katy Kirby. Other notable acts Friday included Dr. Ralph Stanley and His Clinch Mountain Boys, Shovels and Rope, and KindWeb KindBand North Mississippi Allstars. There were also second sets played by St. Paul & The Broken Bones and Donna The Buffalo. The night was topped off with performances by Jeff Bridges and the Abiders and Austin’s own Bob Schneider. Afterwards, those who were camping ditched the shuttles to take part in what has become known as “The Midnight March”, a time when local police shut down the road to Camp Ben Mcculloch to allow the campers to safely “march” back to the campground. A good time was had for sure which transitioned to another late night of picking and drinking.
After a fun Friday night, the hot showers on Saturday were appreciated by all. Another morning of visiting campsites and listening to music later, the shuttles ferried over the concertgoers to the Saturday festivities. Saturday brought sounds from Tim O’Brien & Darrell Scott, Gaelic Storm, Elephant Revival, John Fullbright, Grammy Nominated artist Della Mae, and Peter Rowan’s Twang An’ Groove. Sarah Jarosz, a former Youth Competition winner and hometown favorite, got the evening program going on the Hill Country Stage.
Though Saturday sets were running a bit late, the final three acts of the Hill Country stage were worth the wait. The Del McCoury Band delivered their Bluegrass set in a storytelling style Del and his boys do so well. Robert Randolph & The Family Band got the crowd off their feet and lit it up with his signature steel pedal sound; an amazing set! While Big Head Todd closed down the Hill Country stage with songs from their new album as well as classics like Broken Hearted Savior, local favorite Shineyribs played the Bluebonnet stage and brought the crowd out of their chairs with his infectious sounds inspiring man-dancing everywhere. Another “Midnight March” back to the campground got everyone back to the grounds safely and in good spirits for another late night of spontaneous campsite jam sessions.
As Sunday rolled into gear, the sights and sounds of camps being broken down could be heard all around but there was still a day of music ahead. The Gibson Brothers started the day followed by Della Mae, Elephant Revival and The Black Lillies. Shinyribs’ second set closed out the day, and with that, the official musical lineup of the festival.
The 27th Annual Old Settler’s Music Festival was a great time for sure. If you are looking for a family friendly, talent packed festival you should consider coming out to Old Settler’s Music Festival next year to experience it for yourself. Chances are you won’t be disappointed.