Pick-Me-Up Hoedown

The 17th annual Old Settler's Music Festival

from the top: <br>Del McCoury (l) and Peter 
Rowan<br>[photo by John Carrico]; <br>David 
Grisman<br>[photo by John Carrico]; <br>the 
Greencards<br>[photo by Todd V. Wolfson]
from the top:
Del McCoury (l) and Peter Rowan
[photo by John Carrico];
David Grisman
[photo by John Carrico];
the Greencards
[photo by Todd V. Wolfson]

There may be better known bluegrass/roots music festivals in the U.S., but this weekend's Old Settler's Music Festival at the Salt Lick Pavilion in Driftwood is unique not only to Central Texas, but the entire Lone Star State.

Naturally the setting at Telluride is a spectacular one for Colorado's premier bluegrass festival, with its waterfall, surrounding mountains, and the town's Old Western charm. MerleFest in North Carolina, meanwhile, hosted by Doc Watson, has more stages and an incredible lineup that attracts huge crowds.

For music fans in these parts, the Old Settler's Festival offers a similar experience relative to its modest size without forcing folks to travel thousands of miles. The crowds are also a lot more manageable. Those choosing to camp on site at the adjoining Camp Ben McCulloch find it the real attraction of the festival, with picking parties starting early and lasting till sunup.

True, it's no Kerrville Folk Festival, but Old Settler's organizer Randy Collier claims many patrons go just to the camp and never make it to the main festival site. Those interested in hearing music rather than making their own are in for another solid lineup of local and national talent. This year's Old Settler's fest is the 17th for the annual pick-me-up hoedown.

Once again, the focus is on bluegrass, with appearances from the Del McCoury Band – arguably the best bluegrass act in the world – the legendary Hot Rize, Leftover Salmon, Peter Rowan's Bluegrass Jam, the Tim O'Brien band, Alison Brown, and the David Grisman Quintet.

Locals working similar territory are also well represented in the jams of the Two High String Band and the South Austin Jug Band, the impeccable musicianship of the Greencards, the traditional chops of Cooper's Uncle, and young phenoms Sarah Jarosz & Blue Eyed Grass and Warren Hood's Blue Light Special. Don't forget the guitar, banjo, mandolin, harmonica, and fiddle workshops either.

In keeping with the bluegrass focus, there will also be twice-daily showings of new documentary Bluegrass Journey, which contains performances by and interviews with contemporary stars of the genre, some of whom will be appearing over the weekend (see sidebar).

Another opportunity rearing its head is the chance to take in the "Lion of Zimbabwe," Thomas Mapfumo, rarely seen in these parts, as well as Canada's Celtic fiddle queen Natalie MacMaster (see interview). Austin's rootsy charm is also well represented with Stephen Bruton and Trish Murphy set to close the show on Friday and Saturday respectively.

Campers have an incentive to arrive early this year due to a campsite-only event that will feature appearances by Split Lip Rayfield, the Red Stick Ramblers, the Gourds, and Leftover Salmon. With a pavilion that's too small to hold some of these acts, it'll be a great, if slightly crazy, way to kick things off. – Jim Caligiuri

Pick-Me-Up Hoedown

Bluegrass Journey

D: Ruth Oxenberg & Rob Schumer; with the Del McCoury Band, Nickel Creek, Jerry Douglas, Tim O'Brien, Peter Rowan, Tony Ric (Friday-Saturday, 7 & 9pm, KUT Discovery Stage)

One of the attractions at this year's Old Settler's Festival is the premiere of Bluegrass Journey. Filmed in 2000 at the Grey Fox Bluegrass Festival in New York and at the annual International Bluegrass Music Association's convention in Kentucky, it blends together performance and interviews, and in the process it provides a generous overview of the contemporary bluegrass music scene. Rather than using musical snippets intercut with talk, complete songs are used from the likes of the Del McCoury Band, Nickel Creek, Jerry Douglas, Tim O'Brien, Peter Rowan, Tony Rice, and many others, which gives the viewer a more useful flavor of the music today. While briefly touching on the music's history, overall the film is an inspired exhibition of the music's possibilities and the lively scene that surrounds it. The first film for husband-and-wife team Ruth Oxenberg and Rob Schumer, Bluegrass Journey has won raves at film festivals and music festivals throughout the country. – Jim Caligiuri

Pick-Me-Up Hoedown
Photo By Eric Anderson

Leftover Salmon

Thursday, 10:30pm, Campground Stage

Friday, 11pm, Hill Country Stage

Bad fortune and statehood link the stories of Hot Rize and Leftover Salmon. Both hail from Colorado; both tragically lost a band member. Original LoS banjo player Mark Vann succumbed to melanoma in 2002, but that hasn't stopped the self-described purveyors of "polyethnic cajun slamgrass" from making music.

In fact, they've just released their first studio album in five years. Over the course of the past few years, starting before Vann's illness, Leftover Salmon had begun to undergo some lineup changes. First they swapped out a rhythm section, then came the addition of keyboard player Bill McKay. Vann's replacement Noam Pikelny was the final piece to the puzzle.

"We've been playing a lot of shows, and for the first time since Mark passed away, we feel like, 'Wow, we've got a band again,'" discloses mandolin/fiddle player and vocalist Drew Emmitt. "This is an important record for us because it shows what the current lineup can do and the direction we're going. It's more mature, more focused. We're still the fun-loving party band we've always been, but musically, we're maturing and we were definitely trying to focus on that more on the record."

One of the highlights of this year's festival is sure to be the Leftover/McCoury Jam scheduled for Friday night. Emmitt explains that it came out of the tour they did with the Del McCoury Band in the fall of 2003.

"It's super fun. We play acoustic instruments, but we end up playing more bluegrass, and they put pickups on their instruments and play electric with us. It's like both worlds meeting in the middle. It's a blast."– Jim Caligiuri

Pick-Me-Up Hoedown

Natalie MacMaster

Saturday, 6:30pm, Hill Country Stage

Natalie MacMaster is musing about her muse. The 31-year-old fiddler from Cape Breton has played since she was 10, the journey taking her around the world as a step-dancing, nonstop performing Chamber of Commerce for Nova Scotia. Founded in the 1600s as "New Scotland" at the western tip of Canada, the Scottish settlers brought to the island of Cape Breton a love for music and dance.

"The most unique quality of the Cape Breton sound is rhythm," explains MacMaster. "It's got a really infectious rhythm that's like a train: You hop aboard, and you're not getting off. It carries you. We spent so many years playing music in dance halls for dancers. The rhythms in the feet and rhythms in the music are very similar. It's a good groove to dance to."

Tradition is also close to MacMaster's heart. While past CDs like My Roots Are Showing were traditional, last year's Blueprint played up the arc between American bluegrass and Cape Breton's Celtic roots by featuring artists like Bela Fleck. For all the improvisational look of her stage show, she holds the reins tight.

"There's an art form in putting a set list together," she says. "I always tinker with the order because there's a certain effect I want to have on people, and that's to pull their emotions to different places during the course of the show. You can set the stage for that, no pun intended, create moments for people to be tense, to relax, to laugh, to cry. That's done not just through the songs, but the order."

MacMaster lives outside Ontario, "way out in the country, pretty much on a farm," with her husband, noted fiddler Donnell Leahy, and considers it her sanctuary from the rigors of touring and recording. Even at home, MacMaster has an antidote to the madness.

"I cook. And I don't have e-mail or Internet access," she chuckles. "I not only don't have a computer, I wouldn't know how to turn one on." – Margaret Moser

Tim O’Brien
Tim O’Brien (Photo By John Carrico)

Hot Rize

Saturday, 8pm, Hill Country Stage

The Tim O'Brien Band: Friday, 6:30pm

Hot Rize is a Colorado-based progressive bluegrass outfit dating back to 1978. Named for the secret ingredient of Martha White Self-Rising Flour, which Flatt & Scruggs promoted in the Fifties and Sixties, Hot Rize was Tim O'Brien on vocals, mandolin, and fiddle; Pete Wernick on banjo and harmonies; Charles Sawtelle on guitar and vocals; and Nick Forster on stand-up bass.

One of the superstar bluegrass acts of the Eighties, Hot Rize split amicably a decade later, each member pursuing a solo career. In 1999, Sawtelle succumbed to leukemia. Longtime fans feared this was the end of the band.

"There was too much history to the band to ignore it," O'Brien explains from his home in Nashville. "So we made a decision to find a regular guitar player, but it had to be someone who had the music internalized, someone who had it in their heart and was loyal enough to do the gigs. Bryan is that guy."

That's Nashville superpicker Bryan Sutton. Not that there are a lot of gigs, however. Hot Rize performed six times in 2002, seven times last year, and so far, the band has only three dates on its 2004 planner.

"We love playing Austin," enthuses O'Brien. "We want to exercise the music in front of the right audience. Since we got our first taste of success at Kerrville in 1980, we know audiences in that part of Texas are open-minded."

O'Brien also plays with his own band over the weekend, with multi-instrumentalist Dirk Powell from the Cold Mountain soundtrack as a featured guest. – Jim Caligiuri

Two High String Band’s Billy and Bryn Bright
Two High String Band’s Billy and Bryn Bright (Photo By John Carrico)

Old Settler's Music Schedule

For a complete list of this weekend's events, plus camping, ticket, and workshop info, visit www.oldsettlersmusicfest.org or call the hotline at 512/346-0999 x3. Please double-check all performance times; schedules are subject to change.


Campground Stage

5pm: Mike Williams

6pm: Split Lip Rayfield

7:30pm: Red Stick Ramblers

9pm: The Gourds

10:30pm: Leftover Salmon


Hill Country Stage

3pm: Karen Abrahams

4pm: South Austin Jug Band

5:30pm: Open Road

6:30pm: The Tim O'Brien Band

8pm: The Del McCoury Band

9:30pm: Leftover Salmon

11pm: Leftover/McCoury Jam

Threadgill's Bluebonnet Stage

3:30pm: Cooper's Uncle

4:30pm: Libby Kirkpatrick

5:30pm: Split Lip Rayfield

7pm: Thomas Mapfumo

8:30pm: Terri Hendrix

10pm: Stephen Bruton & friends


Hill Country Stage

12:30pm: The Greencards

1:30pm: Sarah Jarosz & Blue Eyed Grass

2:30pm: Terri Hendrix

3:30pm: Blue Light Special

5pm: Alison Brown

6:30pm: Natalie MacMaster

8pm: Hot Rize

9:30pm: David Grisman Quintet

11pm: Peter Rowan's Crucial Reggae

Threadgill's Bluebonnet Stage

2pm: The Isaacs-Bryant Kids

3pm: Danny Santos & Los Bluegrass Vatos

4:30pm: Peter Rowan's Bluegrass Jam

6pm: Too High String Band & friends

7:30pm: The Motet

9pm: Open Road

10:30pm: Trish Murphy


Campground Stage

11am: Sarah Jarosz & Blue Eyed Grass

Noon: Cadillac Sky

1pm: Imperial Golden Crown Harmonizers

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Old Settler's Music Festival, Salt Lick Pavilion, Driftwood, Camp Ben McCulloch, Randy Collier, The Del McCoury Band, Hot Rize, Leftover Salmon, Tim O'Brien, Natalie MacMaster, Bluegrass Journey

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