Old Settler's Music Festival by Amy Price

words and photos by Amy Price



It's a family thing.  Every year, familiar faces reconnect at the Old Settlers Music Festival to hear great music, camp under the stars, deal with the collective forces of nature, and get back in touch with the great universal vibe. It's a big ole reunion for the family that you made, not just what you were born to.  And, what a glorious family it is!  It doesn't matter what you do in the 'real world' - at Old Settlers you're a member of a rarified community of music enthusiasts who  appreciate performances by top-notch festival talent in a relaxed environment. The performing artists too are part of this community, mingling and joining with enthusiasts during the days and in the campgrounds well into the night in shared stories and songs. Many bring their children, spouses and significant others; this year was the 'first concert' for more than a few little ones, as well as a continuation of a family tradition for older offspring.  At Old Settlers, music is the common language, and the festival always has a well-curated lineup that mixes the new with the well-established, giving established artists like Robert Earl Keen an opportunity to try new things while up-and-comers work on earning their wings.  


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Friday's performances started late in the day, with intermittent rain keeping the crowds small but appreciative. Musical prodigy Alexander Nobles, winner of the 2014 Old Settler's Youth Competition, opened  with a set which showcased his spectacular piano chops. MilkDrive kicked off the festivities as the rain started, showing how they've matured as well as how their work with Ray Bensen has helped them further refine their sophisticated mix of progressive jazz-grass. String-rock band Darlingside got the award for standing the closest together.  They didn't get rich and famous from their NPR Tiny Desk submission earlier this year, but you would never know it from the music they played. Bluegrass wizards The Infamous Stringdusters performed to a hardy group of souls in the rain. One couple had travelled from California to see them and told me that 'you get hot when you get dusted', which may explain some of their appeal.


Darlingside by Amy Price


MilkDrive by Amy Price



Langhorne Slim & the Law's alt-country performance was fun, with a charismatic Langhorne coming down into the audience to mingle during the set.  JOHNNYSWIM, the musical identity of the husband and wife duo of Amanda Sudano-Ramirez and Abner Ramierez, was similarly charming, especially as they noted that it was their first performance since the birth of their son Joaquim two months prior. Joaquim was also experiencing his first performance from backstage, sporting a pair of green headphones. Mandolin standout Sam Bush - the King of Newgrass and one of the best anywhere at this instrument- flexed his musical muscles as he and his band strolled through a masterful set of bluegrass music mixed with rock, jazz and even a little reggae.  Roxy Roca nailed their performance with a funky, sensual Southern soul all-out dance jam, so much so that no one cared any more if it was raining or muddy. You couldn't help but move your body when the lead singer has moves like James Brown and a voice to match. The Sage of Wimberly, Ray Wylie Hubbard, closed out the evening with a mix of old and new music and plenty of stories, while The Mavericks had the audience on its feet and dancing through most of the set as the golden guitar and voice of Raul Malo led his crack band of musicians through their hits, back catalog and songs from their most recent release Mono


Langhorn Slim And The Law by Amy Price

Langhorn Slim And The Law



Sam Bush by Amy Price

Sam Bush

Roxy Roca by Amy Price

Roxy Roca

The Mavericks by Amy Price

Raul Malo of The Mavericks

The Mavericks by Amy Price

The Mavericks


Saturday began with the promise of greatly reduced rain chances, and though cloudy the rain held off largely through the daylight hours. The Black Lilies showcased a sound that's a bit bluegrass and a tad country with a liberal dash of psychy goodness around the edges.  Dripping Springs resident Israel Nash produced one of my personal favorite albums of 2014, Rain Plans, with warranted comparisons to Neil Young in his "Harvest" days. Of course, his set was similarly stellar. A bonus however was when he brought his 2 year old daughter onstage during the brief sound check, who enjoyed it so much that she protested loudly when she had to be returned to her mom's arms.  Lauren Shera from Nashville produced some of the most beautiful and ethereal vocals and harmonies of the festival with her female accompaniments, while Pokey LaFarge with his old-timey sound rocked the crowd with enthusiasm, attitude and a perpetual smile.


The Black Lillies by Amy Price

The Black Lillies

Israel Nash by Amy price

Israel Nash

Lauren Shea by Amy Price

Lauren Shea

Pokey LaFarge by Amy Price

Pokey LaFarge


Sisters Leah and Chloe Smith of Rising Appalachia channeled the Carolina Chocolate Drops in the mixing of multiple musical styles - even reggae - with their native Southern mountain sounds, forging a creation that takes the old tried and true and turns it up to 11. Yonder Mountain String Band alum Jeff Austin and his band's fiery performance was the first in the Austin area for his new band, which includes Austin music legend Danny Barnes on banjo. The McCrary Sisters brought the gospel and great big vocal harmonies to the festival, while Bruce Robison and Kelly Willis - perpetual Austin favorites and who came to the festival with their family in tow - did a set that spotlighted their fine vocal and songwriting talent.  


Rising Appalachia by Amy price

Rising Appalachia

The Jeff Austin Band by Amy price

The Jeff Austin Band

Bruce Robison Kelly Willis by Amy Price

Bruce Robison & Kelly Willis


Hot Rize celebrated their 37th year together with classic pure bluegrass and included an appearance by hilarious alter-ego Red Knuckles in their set. Spinal Tap's got nothing on these guys.  The Lost Bayou Ramblers brought a little steamy swampy Louisiana music to the by-now steamy swampy audience, with classic Cajun fiddling and accordion.  Ukulele master Jake Shimabukuro, accompanied by only a bassist, wowed the audience with his energetic and incredibly nuanced performance. His cover of "Bohemian Rhapsody" was topped only by his unique interpretation of "While My Guitar Gently Weeps", which was his breakout viral YouTube video, and even better live. Dailey and Vincent melded bluegrass, gospel and a touch of country. Jamie Dailey is one of the finest singers out there today, and the combination of vocals from Darrin Vincent and the rest of the band rivals that of the Statler Brothers. JD McPherson has come a long way since his appearance at the Austin City Limits Music Festival a few years ago, and he absolutely rocked the lot with alt-country, rockabilly riffs and a no-holds-barred performance.


Hot Rize by Amy Price

Hot Rize

Lost Bayou Ramblers by Amy Price

The Lost Bayou Ramblers

Jake Shimabukuro by Amy Price

Jake Shimabukuro

Dailey and Vincent by Amy Price

Dailey & Vincent

JD McPherson by Amy Price

JD McPherson


By this time, some wicked weather - wind, lightning and even hail - was moving into the area, and the last of the evenings headliners - Chuck Prophet and the Mission Express, Shinyribs and Robert Earl Keen (who traded Red Dirt music for bluegrass on his most recent release) - were delayed, but none of this dampened the good times feeling of the audiences. 


A third stage on Saturday hosted clinics and workshops by a number of the performers, including Tim O'Brien and Bruce Robison (on songwriting) and Jake Shimabukuro, who explained how he developed his rapid ukulele strumming method (it came from his background as a high school marching percussionist).  In between all the music, there were great food choices (the margherita pizza and the soft-serve ice cream were standouts), excellent conversation, shady trees, the river and a gently sloping grassy lawn that was perfect for naps and cloud watching.  These types of experiences coupled with the chill vibe make it the kind of festival that people return to year after year.  There is nothing better than listening to music you love with a few thousand others who feel the same way.  That's a real family.

And to help relive and experience some of this incredible music, here's a YouTube playlist with a song from most of the performers who played on Friday and Saturday.


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