This weekend marks the 25th annual Old Settler's Music Festival, but don't expect big celebrations surrounding the milestone. According to Jean Spivey, the event's executive director, the only commemoration is a quilt stitching together T-shirts from every year of OSMF's existence.
Instead, the Hill Country staple settles into a well-established and dulcet groove: a weekend rich with local and national roots music acts, workshops allowing up-close and personal time with said performers (look for banjo great Tony Trischka on Saturday), great Salt Lick barbecue, and camping. Unlike other Central Texas music festivals, Spivey admits there isn't much talk of growing OSMF beyond looking for more campground.
"There's a camaraderie the Salt Lick brings, and we're really interested in keeping that vibe," she says.
As one of the first music gatherings in the area to book national bluegrass acts, OSMF has expanded as evidenced by Iron & Wine and Amos Lee at the top of this year's bill (www.oldsettlersmusicfest.org).
"Really, it's anything that could be called 'roots,'" Spivey admits. "It could be Celtic or it could be two brands of folk rock from this year's headliners."
Amos Lee's fourth album Mission Bell took a lot of people by surprise, debuting at No. 1 the week it was released in January 2011. "I honestly thought that the hard work we put into it would pay off," he recalls. "It's hard to know because the records before that did pretty good."
Such success allowed the Philadelphia-based folk and soul artist the freedom to take his time with a follow-up. Right now, he's concentrating on the songwriting process. "Traditionally I've written solo, and I will probably continue to do that, but I'm interested in collaborative writing and collaborative music-making, not just writing."
Mission Bell features guest turns from Willie Nelson, Lucinda Williams, Iron & Wine's Sam Beam, and Calexico. Nelson sang his part on "Behind Me Now" through the mail, so the two didn't meet until Lee appeared at last year's Farm Aid.
"It would have been nice to be in the same room," he claims, "but it was awesome just to listen to the playback. I got a chance to sing that song with him at Farm Aid and all I could do was sit back and go, 'Wow!'"
When Marshall Crenshaw burst onto the New Wave scene with his self-titled 1982 debut and its Top 40 hit "Someday, Someway," he owed more to Elvis Costello and Nick Lowe than Buggles or Thomas Dolby. Since then, the Detroit-born onetime Buddy Holly look-alike has remained a bold and creative voice among contemporary singer-songwriters. His latest adventurous move teams him this weekend with St. Louis alt.country outfit the Bottle Rockets.
"It wasn't my idea, or theirs, initially," he explains. "We have the same booking agent, and I think between him and my manager, it got cooked up. I've always liked their music, so we did some dates in the Midwest in the beginning of 2011. We really clicked, and people loved it."
Crenshaw claims that after the trying experience he had with the release of Jaggedland in 2009, he's done with making CDs. There's a Kickstarter project he's currently funding, a series of six vinyl EPs with digital downloads.
"There really is something magical about records as opposed to other media."
Mandolinist Doyle Lawson was introduced to bluegrass in 1963 when at the age of 18 he became a member of Jimmy Martin's Sunny Mountain Boys. He's led his own band, Quicksilver, since 1979, earning a reputation as one of the finest bluegrass and gospel acts in the land. Since quite a few members of Quicksilver later made their names in other bands, Lawson's jokingly dubbed his group the "farm team."
"I have a sense of pride because I can tell they were listening when I was talking to them," says Lawson. "For the music to continue, there's got to be new blood, and my gracious, the world is filled with young pickers today."
Believer or not, Lawson's spirituals are sure to grab you.
"Gospel music is universal," he insists. "I've done extensive work overseas including the Middle East. Even though our beliefs and languages were different, they sensed something different about the music. Don't ask me to explain it. I can't. But I can tell by their reaction that they felt a difference."
Railroad Earth (Friday, 10:45pm, Hill Country stage) Bristling at the jam tag, this Jersey sextet jumps off bluegrass into energetic and progressive folk & roll.
Flounders Without Eyes (Saturday, 11pm, Bluebonnet stage) Since 1992, these locals' Americana hybrid pulses soulfully organic.
Pine Leaf Boys (Friday, 7pm, Bluebonnet stage) Lafayette, La., fivepiece brings Cajun culture into the 21st century.
Psychograss (Friday, 8:30pm, Bluebonnet stage; Saturday, 5:15pm, Bluebonnet stage) Five of the top acoustic musicians on the planet (Darol Anger, Mike Marshall, Tony Trischka, David Grier, Todd Phillips) transcend bluegrass.
Audie Blaylock & Redline (Saturday, 1:15pm, Hill Country stage) Longtime guitarist for "King of Bluegrass" Jimmy Martin, high-powered, traditional.
Greensky Bluegrass (Saturday, 8pm, Bluebonnet stage; Sunday, 2:30pm, Campground stage) Innovative jamgrass/newgrass from Michigan, with two discs produced by Tim Carbone of Railroad Earth.
Sarah Jarosz (Saturday, 4pm, Discovery stage; 7pm, Hill Country stage) Hometown heroine returns to the scene of her first triumph, accompanied earlier in the day at her mandolin workshop by Eagles guitarist Joe Walsh.
Lissie (Friday, 7:30pm, Hill Country stage) Although compared to Stevie Nicks, Chicago's Lissie draws from a palette so broad she's covered Metallica, Nick Cave, and Lady Gaga on an upcoming EP.
Dale Ann Bradley (Saturday, 2:30pm, Bluebonnet stage) Kentucky's four-time winner of the International Bluegrass Music Association's Female Vocalist of the Year.
Eilen Jewell (Sunday, 1:15pm, Campground stage) Likened to Gillian Welch and Lucinda Williams, Boise, Idaho-born Jewell brings torch songs to her shadowy contemporary folk.
The Bottle Rockets (Saturday, 6:45pm, Bluebonnet stage) The original alt.country band? Missouri's finest go acoustic.
Ha Ha Tonka (Thursday, 10:45pm, Campground stage; Friday, 4pm, Bluebonnet stage) Young quartet named for a Missouri state park near its home in the Ozarks churns out soaring anthems and sad lonesome with equal relish.
Jason Isbell & the 400 Unit (Saturday, 2:30pm, Hill Country stage) The former Drive-By Trucker from Alabama possesses master songwriting chops.
Wheeler Brothers (Friday, 5:45pm, Hill Country stage) Austin Music Awards siblings roust Texan Americana on 2011 debut Portraits.
New Country Rehab (Saturday, 11am, Hill Country stage; Sunday, 4pm, Campground stage) Toronto's next big thing follows in the well-tread footsteps of Mumford & Sons and the Avett Brothers.
James McMurtry (Friday, 10:15pm, Bluebonnet stage) Father.
Bob Schneider (Saturday, 9:30pm, Bluebonnet stage) Son.
Sam Baker (Sunday, 11am, Campground stage) Holy Ghost.
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