After 27 years, Old Settler’s Music Festival knows that Saturday’s the day to shine. This year they outdid themselves with a focus on American music in all its forms and glory that delighted roots lovers far and wide. Add in an overflow crowd, two stages on a picturesque site in Dripping Springs, and the year’s best weather, and a good time was had by all.
My day started at the Bluebonnet stage with the Gibson Brothers. The International Bluegrass Music Association’s Entertainers of the Year two years running kept things traditional, right down to their suits. The upstate New York natives charmed the early crowd with a healthy dose of self-deprecating humor and outstanding brotherly harmonies.
Mid-set they announced they were working on an LP paying tribute to those same types of harmonies. On cue, they pulled off a sweet version of the Everly Brothers’ “Bye Bye Love.” It proved a perfect beginning to Saturday.
The next highlight came from the Del McCoury Band. Stage times were supposed to be staggered, allowing you to catch some of all the acts if you wanted. The Hill Country stage was running late, however, meaning Del, his sons Robbie and Ronnie, and the rest of the band kicked off around the same time as Okie firebrand John Fullbright.
Because Fullbright was sure to debut songs from his forthcoming album Songs, he was a don’t-miss. I stuck around for a couple tunes of McCoury’s high-grade high and lonesome before scurrying across the park to see the young songwriter. Fullbright did indeed spotlight some of his new songs, recalling a young Jackson Browne while at the piano mulling over love lost, and, as he described it, “Puppy love told from the viewpoint of the puppy.”
“What’s So Bad About Happy?” he queried in a dirge, and “Stars” demonstrated Fullbright’s praiseworthy talent in a song. I then rushed back to catch the end of the McCourys and wasn’t disappointed there either. The final three numbers mashed up of Robert Cray’s “Smokin’ Gun,” an audience singalong on spiritual standard “Swing Low, Sweet Chariot,” and their always crowd-pleasing rendition of Richard Thompson’s “1952 Vincent Black Lightning.” The smile on Del McCoury’s face afterward beamed into the next county.
After a dinner break, I caught a bit of Tim O’Brien & Darrell Scott, who performed to a huge crowd on the Bluebonnet stage. While they mostly concentrated on tunes from their recent duets disc Memories and Moments, Scott brought things back to Texas with an energized reading of Townes Van Zandt’s “White Freightliner Blues.” O’Brien paid tribute to American music stalwart John Hartford with a especially warm version of “Gentle On My Mind.”
Sarah Jarosz grew up in Wimberly, just down the road from OSMF, so her appearance this year as a headliner was particularly special. I’ve seen her a dozen times over the years and this performance topped them all. She appeared remarkably confident and beyond happy in playing for a hometown crowd. There were moments of sublime interplay with her bandmates Nathaniel Smith on cello and Alex Hargreaves on fiddle.
They play what’s come to be known as chamber folk, but it’s really a mixture of folk, bluegrass, and classical, typified by their rendition of John Hartford instrumental “The Squirrel Hunters,” which brought an audible wow from the audience when it finished. “Tell Me True” also featured a slippery jam and mentor Tim O’Brien joined Jarosz onstage at set’s end. A memorable moments for a festival with a history of such things.
The greatness of OSMF remains in the stately beauty of Jarosz being followed by the down-in-the-dirt funk and soul of Robert Randolph & the Family Band. Leading with a beat heavy 15-minute jam that showed off his band’s prowess, Randolph also displayed his ability to take the pedal steel guitar to places it’s never been. Mid-set, he paid tribute to some obvious influences with a medley of the riffs for Led Zeppelin’s “Whole Lotta Love” and Jimi Hendrix’s “Voodoo Chile.”
Another flawless soundtrack to accompany my dusty trek to the parking lot so I could drive my tired, music-sated body home.
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