The Austin Chronicle

https://www.austinchronicle.com/columns/2000-04-07/76698/

Day Trips

By Gerald E. McLeod, April 7, 2000, Columns

The Old Settler's Music Festival isn't in Round Rock anymore. The popular, 13-year-old, family-oriented, bluegrass and folk music festival has packed its bags and moved to the Stone Mountain Event Center west of Dripping Springs.

This will be the first year the fabled event has been held outside of the Round Rock park where it originated. The new digs are 37 acres of juniper- and oak-covered Hill Country land 30 minutes west of Oak Hill. The April 7-9 music festival is also the first major event at the new entertainment center off of U.S. 290.

The musical lineup for the festival is as eclectic as the broad range of music lovers who attend. Headliners for this year's event include Bela Fleck and the Flecktones, Willis Alan Ramsey, and Sara Hickman. In all, there are nearly 50 different acts spread over three days, plus workshops, arts and crafts booths, and campfire jam sessions in the camping areas. For a complete list of performers see the "Recommended" section of this newspaper (page 102).

Since it was organized in 1987 by employees of the Round Rock Public Works Department, the festival has developed a reputation as a high-quality music event that caters to all ages. In 1994, a volunteer management staff took over operation of the annual event.

Over the years, the festival has grown from a few hundred attendees to a few thousand music lovers. Restrictions imposed by the Round Rock Parks Department protected the city-owned Old Settler's Park (also the site of the Round Rock Express minor league baseball stadium), but stifled growth of the festival. In 1997, heavy rains washed away any chance of the nonprofit organization breaking even on the musical event.

Inclement weather won't produce a total disaster at the Old Settler's Music Festival's new home at Stone Mountain three miles west of Dripping Springs. The event center's 54,000-square-foot covered horse arena can quickly be converted into a concert hall.

Built as an equestrian center by a foundation for persons recovering from head injuries, Stone Mountain was a Boy Scout summer camp until Rickye Lennon and his company bought the property last October. "We started with about 25 names," Lennon says. "We picked Stone Mountain because it was easy to say." The surrounding Hill Country landscape has plenty of natural building materials if they ever decide to build a stone mountain to go with the name.

The center already hosts monthly barrel races and roping events in the covered rodeo arena. Open on two sides, the arena makes a perfect indoor/outdoor meeting center. The sand and loam mixture that makes a soft floor for racing horses, but can be mixed with water to become a hard, dust-free, convention-center floor that high heels and folding-chair legs can't penetrate.

The new owners are in the process of building an outdoor hillside amphitheater that can accommodate up to 10,000 concert goers. The thick forest of juniper and oak trees surrounding the area have been trimmed to provide more space and shade. By next spring, the event center hopes to also become a family reunion center with several pavilions available along with volleyball courts, hiking trails, and other outdoor activities. Coming up on April 30, the complex will host their first foray into music promotion with an evening concert featuring Tracy Byrd and special guests. This summer, the event center welcomes Willie Nelson's Fourth of July Picnic.

A niche that Stone Mountain seems uniquely qualified to fill is that of corporate retreat center. Lennon says he has plans to offer businesses moving to the Austin area a chance to experience a real Texas party complete with private rodeo, barbecue, and country & western dancing under the stars.

Music and dances for special events will be held at the center's small stage, which will be the Hill Country Stage at this year's festival. Festival-goers will be shifting between that and the tent-covered Bluebonnet Stage for a day of continuous entertainment. Two smaller stages for workshops and open mike performances will be set up in the camping areas.

In addition to 20 RV sites, there will be two primitive camping areas for ticket holders. Overnight guests will have the choice between the family camping area (lights out at 10pm) or the other area "for the wild ones," says festival spokesperson Jean Spivey.

"Wild" at the Old Settler's Music Festival usually means a stand-up bass player with an unruly head of hair. On Friday, the gates open at the festival grounds at 10am for advance ticket holders, and tickets go on sale at the site at 2pm. The music begins at 4pm and goes until midnight. The entertainment goes on, rain or shine.

On Saturday the gates open at 10am with the music playing from noon until midnight. Sunday's performances last from 9-11am, and the gates close at 5pm. Because the festival sells food and alcoholic beverages, it is illegal to bring alcohol onto the festival ground. There is also no smoking allowed in the concert area.

Coolers are allowed at the campsites only, and pets are best left at home. Bring a blanket or lawn chair, the kids, a musical instrument, and be a part of this festival that is sure to become a tradition with music lovers from around the state.

For more information on the festival, call 512/346-1629 or visit their Web site at http://www.bluegrassfestival.com. For information on Stone Mountain Event Center, call 512/894-4606.

Coming up this weekend ...

Bluebonnet Festival of Texas is a good excuse to drive the backroads of Washington County at the height of wildflower season to join in the entertainment, shopping, and food in downtown Chappell Hill, April 8-9. 409/836-6033.

International Festival in Houston is a Texas-sized event honoring Brazil this year, April 8-16, with an international film festival, music, dance, theater, and the popular Art Car Parade on April 15. 713/654-8808.

Coming up ...

Scarborough Faire re-creates an old English village outside of Waxahachie on Saturday and Sundays (plus Memorial Day), April 15-June 4. 972/938-3247.

Gen. Sam Houston Folklife Festival in Huntsville brings entertainment and education together at the Houston Memorial Museum Complex, April 14-16. 800/289-0389.

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