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BBQ and Bluebonnets

Old Settler's Music Festival escapes its pigeonhole

By Jim Caligiuri, 1:40PM, Wed. Apr. 14, 2010

BBQ and Bluebonnets

What started as a little bluegrass festival in Round Rock 23 years ago has become a respected Americana event, spread over four days on four stages. This year’s fest is arguably the most diverse, with headliners Brave Combo (Thursday), Joe Ely (Friday), Patty Griffin (Saturday), and the Gourds rounding things out Sunday afternoon.

I spoke to the Festival's director, Jean Spivey, to see what she’s excited about this year, and she immediately mentioned some of unfamiliar acts: “Someone who is really new to the scene is a guy from Oklahoma, John Fullbright. He got his start at the Blue Door in Oklahoma City. He’s like this old soul. His songs are not the caliber of a 21-year-old. They’re the caliber of someone who has lived a long, long life.”

She also brings up the excellent four-woman harmonies of local powerhouse the Trishas. “It’ll probably be the biggest audience that they’ve played for and I think they’re going to knock some people out,” Spivey maintains, also highlighting Dirtfoot, a gypsy-punk zydeco band from Shreveport, and the Giving Tree Band, an all-acoustic folk- rock bluegrass septet from Chicago.

One of the big surprises this year is the appearance of Alejandro Escovedo with his newly formed Sensitive Boys, previewing songs from June's Street Songs of Love. “Alejandro’s agent told me he wanted to play the festival because they played San Francisco’s Hardly Strictly Bluegrass Festival,” Spivey states. “His drummer, Hector Muñoz, used to be my massage therapist. He’s got great hands. So he knew about the festival. The first two years I was director, he was the one who took my stress away. But then, Alejandro had that big record and they were on the road a lot, so I haven’t seen Hector for a while. I’m not sure if he’s doing massages any more, but I should call him because he’s in town.”

Such an appearance is sure to blast away any thoughts that OSMF is still a bluegrass festival, although bluegrass is still an important part of what they do.

“We’re about a third bluegrass this year,” Spivey says. “In town, people know it’s not a bluegrass festival. Out of town, I think we do fight some of that in the Blitzen Trapper circles. Some bands that I’d like to get don’t think that Old Settler's is the right festival for them to play. I’m combating that and I’ve worked real hard to get the agents to understand that’s not where we are. I’d love to do Blitzen Trapper, Fleet Foxes, or Mumford and Sons, but I stand behind everybody that’s playing and think they should be seen.”

One thing that’s new this year is the expansion of Sunday’s slate into something more than a afterthought, with a gospel set from bluegrass legend Doyle Lawson and the appearance of rough and tumble Canadian singer-songwriter Fred Eaglesmith.

“I want Sunday to be a fun day and I want to look at ways to grow the festival," she adds. "So this year Sunday is a don’t-miss kind of day. The tech guys are kind of laughing because I keep making the festival just a little bit bigger every year and they have to work harder every year, but really, it gets a little bit organically bigger.”

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