More Old Settler's Music Festival Preview
Dr. Ralph Stanley
Fri., Hill Country stage, 5:45pm
"Oh, it's a job just like anything else," drawls Dr. Ralph Stanley over the land line from his home in rural Virginia, downplaying the heroic tour schedule he maintains. "Just like carrying a shovel and pick, you got to get out there and earn your living."
"Mr. Stanley, you're 87 years old," I objected. "If it was just a job you'd have retired by now."
With that, he breathes a little laugh. "Well, I must admit I do get some pleasure out of it."
The ultimate elder statesman of mountain music, Stanley, who's been performing since forming the Stanley Brothers with his late brother Carter in 1946, rarely plays music when he's home, although he does sing in church when he can. While he's regarded as among the most influential banjo players ever, you'll seldom find him sliding on finger picks these days.
"I don't play banjo very much anymore. Now and then I pick it up and play a little clawhammer, but I have arthritis in my hands," he says
Does he miss it?
"Well, I can't say I don't, but there's a lot of aspects of music I enjoy and singing is one of them, too."
His uniquely weathered tenor remains in working order, taking lead for three songs on Side by Side, a recent collaborative LP with son Ralph Stanley II. Friday at Old Settler's, another Stanley kin, 21-year-old grandson Nathan, will get the lion's share of microphone time.
"He's a real go-getter," offers granddad. "When Nathan was 2 years old, he used to stand on the side of the stage and watch me while I was playing. He learned music through the family, but I don't think I taught him much. I might have showed him a couple licks here and there, but he was pretty well born with it"
What else is Stanley proud of?
"Two things," he volleys right back. "Winning those Grammys [for O Brother, Where Art Thou?] and sticking with the old time music that made me what I am."
Can mountain music survive if he's not sitting at the head of the table?
"You can't ever tell. All you can do is hope." – Kevin Curtin
Shovels & Rope
Fri., Hill Country stage, 7pm
"The lineup's pretty down-homey as opposed to hipster bands," notes Cary Ann Hearst as she examines the Old Settler's bill. "Look, Dr. Ralph Stanley & His Clinch Mountain Boys are gonna play!" she directs to her husband Michael Trent, the other half of Shovels & Rope.
"Oh, that's cool," he confirms with interest. "We found the website, if you couldn't tell."
The Charleston, S.C., duo has been zigzagging across the country consistently since their 2008 debut, and even more so since O' Be Joyful two years ago. When I caught up with them, they had 15 hours left at home before shoving off again to Knoxville. "Hipster bands" might be a nod to Shovels & Rope's last visit here, when they played both weekends of ACL Fest, flying out between the three-day clusters.
"We did squeeze in one quick trip to Lucy's Fried Chicken," admits Hearst. "That's all we got to see."
Old Settler's homegrown sensibilities seem better suited to the drawling rock showcased on the twosome's sophomore hit, though it's clear why they made the ACL cut. Hearst and Trent's gritty folk jams work in elements of blues and gospel, delivering an explosive package ready for a backyard jam much smaller than Zilker's scope.
Like their last local jaunt, the duo won't get to stick around Driftwood or the Salt Lick for long. After their Friday set, the pair hops a plane to California for a one-off before supporting dates for the Drive-By Truckers.
"So, no fried chicken for the weary on this trip," laughs Hearst. – Abby Johnston
Thu., Camp Ben McCulloch stage, 7:30pm
Though only 20, Parker Millsap's graveled vocals and dusted up, road-worn Americana kicks an impressive heft on the Oklahoma songwriter's eponymous debut. With a roots versatility swinging from blues romps and soulful folk to jazz-tinged ballads, Millsap turns a keen eye towards a cast of outsiders encompassing truck stop preachers, broken bar stoolies, and low bent dreamers. – Doug Freeman
St. Paul & the Broken Bones
Thu., Camp Ben McCulloch stage, 6pm; Fri., Bluebonnet stage, 9:05pm
A breakout last month at South by Southwest behind debut long-player Half the City, St. Paul & the Broken Bones offers up blazing southern soul from unlikely frontman Paul Janeway. The Alabama outfit's horn-braced, gospel-fed, and fire-branded soul may seem incongruous from the white sextet, but Janeway's fervent howls and pleading ballads carry the charisma of greats like Otis Redding and Al Green.– Doug Freeman
North Mississippi Allstars
Fri., Bluebonnet stage, 10:45pm
Sons of Memphis' ock & roll auteur Jim Dickinson, guitarist Luther and drummer Cody Dickinson's brand of distorted, blues-drenched, Southern hip-shakin' has more in common with the Jon Spencer Blues Explosion and Mississippi fife and drum combos than the Allman Brothers. The title of last year's World Boogie Is Coming arrived especially telling. – Tim Stegall
Jeff Bridges & the Abiders
Fri., Hill Country stage, 8:45pm
A man of many interests, actor Jeff Bridges released his self-titled, T Bone Burnett-produced disc in 2011, an outgrowth of his Academy Award-winning portrayal of grizzled country singer Bad Blake in the film Crazy Heart. His band's name tips a Stetson to his most famous role, The Big Lebowski's Dude, but Bridges' brand of Southern songcraft never strays into goofiness and sticks to your ribs. – Jim Caligiuri
Sat., Hill Country stage, 2:35pm
In 2012, John Fullbright, 25, broke out of Okemah, Okla., on the strength of From the Ground Up, an album that so enthralled Americana fanatics it garnered a Grammy nomination. He's poised to follow that disc up with Songs. Set for release May 27, it bears a stripped-down sound yet displays growth in the young songwriter's confidence and ability to build melodies while remaining emotionally direct. – Jim Caligiuri
Sat., Bluebonnet stage, 10:50pm
From small things, big things one day come. Gourds co-founder Kevin Russell's only goal upon beginning Shinyribs in 2007 was to pay off a car note with monthly gigs in Houston. Once he fleshed out a lineup with, among others, fellow Gourd Keith Langford's drumming, Shinyribs evolved into the strongest evocation of how the Band's glorious Americana might have sounded had every member been Levon Helm. – Tim Stegall