Upsizing the Ante

Old Settlers Bluegrass & Acoustic Festival

In the age of corporate downsizing, it's heartening to see the arts upsizing. Take, for example, the Old Settlers Bluegrass & Acoustic Musical Festival. A few years ago, Round Rock's annual fiesta played host to a couple of touring bluegrass bands, a few locals, and was held indoors. Now, in its second year under a new board of directors, the revitalized festival is not only spread over two days, it's smack-dab in the middle of bluebonnet season, scenically realized in a beautiful setting, and sports a talent line-up designed to give world-class bluegrass jamborees such as the Telluride Bluegrass Festival, the Merle Watson Memorial Festival, and the Strawberry Festival in California a run for their money.

"I'll tell you, this year we have a line-up as good as any of those other three festivals," says John Aengus, one of the producers of the festival. "Last year was a transition year. We increased attendance from 450 people to 1,400 people, upped the budget from $16,000 to $60,000, and moved it outdoors. We had David Grisman, Buck White & the Whites, Jerry Douglas, Byron Berline, and Paul Glasse. We almost broke even."

Having booked 33 acts this year, Aengus and his partners aren't just trying to break even -- they're going for broke. A group of volunteers who'd worked the festival for a few years before the city elders decided it was costing Round Rock too much, Aengus and the new board of directors decided to take the reigns, make a five-year committment to the Old Settlers fest, and book some of their old pals to play the whole shebang.

"I have personal relationships with most of the performers on the bill," says Aengus. "I've been around my share of festivals. I used to go see Bill Monroe when I was 12 and living in Beanblossom, Indiana. [Monroe] kept a house near there and had his own personal bluegrass festival every year. I saw 10 or 12 of 'em. That was what you did if you were in college in Bloomington -- see John Mellencamp on Wednesday and then go to the bluegrass festival on Saturday."

Personal relationships with most of the performers? Aengus must have a rich social life. Check the lineup: The father of all flat-pickers, Doc Watson; bluegrass belle Alison Krauss & Union Station -- and runner-up, Claire Lynch; folk queen Iris Dement; monarch of the mandolin David Grisman; duke of the dobro, Jerry Douglas; fifes of the fiddle, Richard Greene and Vassar Clements; not to mention genre royalty like Peter Rowan, Herb Pederson, Steve Forbert, and gospel group The Fairfield Four. And that's just the national talent; Austin is well represented by the Bad Livers, Joe Ely, Toni Price, Don Walser, Steve James, Laurie Freelove, and Ana Egge.

Not bad for a country spin-off genre that sprang from Bill Monroe's love of jazz, eh? "Oh, I think bluegrass has infiltrated popular music pretty well," says Aengus. "I don't care if it's R.E.M. or Shawn Colvin -- you can hear the string influence there. Modern music has become very acoustic and bluegrass oriented. Look at how succussful KGSR is, and how successful the Americana format has become. Maybe it's a result of us baby-boomers graying. Or maybe a lot of audiences are getting tired of the Nashville hat-band thing."

Yeah, maybe it's time someone started downsizing that.


Tickets for the Old Settlers Bluegrass and Acoustic Music Festival are $25 (Friday), $30 (Saturday), or $48 (both days). Children under 12 are free, under 17 are half price with adult. Call Star Ticket Outlets: 469-SHOW, 469-7469, 800/966-7469. Old Settlers Park: I-35 North to Hwy 79 E. Campers welcome. Call 346-1629 for more info or visit http://www.bluegrassfestival.com. Gates open two hours prior to showtime.


FRIDAY

MAIN STAGE

Asylum Street Spankers (6pm); Toni Price (6:50pm); Blue Highway (7:40pm); Joe Ely Unplugged (8:40pm); Bad Livers (9:30pm); Alison Krauss & Union Station (10:15pm); David Grisman Quintet (11:30pm).

BLUEBONNET BISTRO STAGE

Laurie Freelove (7pm); Ed Miller (8pm); Primitive Mind (9pm); Kim Miller (10pm); Ana Egge & Friends (11pm); Erik Hokkanen (Midnight).

CHILDREN'S STAGE

Ponty Bone & the Squeezetones (6pm); Mary Hattersley & the Blazing Bows (7pm); Larry Sullivan (8pm).


SATURDAY

MAIN STAGE

Don Walser (11am); Steve James (Noon); Claire Lynch & the Front Porch String Band (1pm); Tony Williamson & Friends (2pm); Richard Greene & Grass Is Greener (3pm); Steve Forbert (4pm); Peter Rowan & Friends (5pm); Fairfield Four (6pm); Paul Glasse Band (7pm); Iris Dement (8pm); Russ Barenberg, Jerry Douglas, and Edgar Meyer (9pm); Doc Watson & Jack Lawrence (10pm); A Special Bluegrass Reunion, featuring David Grisman, Peter Rowan, Vassar Clements, and Herb Pederson (11pm); "A Truly Outrageous Midnight Jam!!!" (Midnight).

BLUEBONNET BISTRO STAGE

Darcie Deaville (7pm); Grazmatics (8pm); Sarah Elizabeth Campbell (8:35pm); Paul Sanchez (9:30pm); Danny Santos (10:15pm); Karen Abrahams (11pm).

CHILDREN'S STAGE

Bonzo Crunch (11am); Marilisa "The Waggle Taggle Gypsy" (Noon); John Burleson (1pm); Mary Hattersly (2pm); Natsha La Gitana (3pm); Academy of Performing Arts Texas Hoe Downers (4pm); Aunt Beanie's First Prize Beets (5pm).

WORKSHOP STAGE

Guitar, Mandolin, Banjo, Fiddle, Dobro, Upright Bass, Songwriting, Vocal Harmony workshops (11am-6pm). n

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