"That boy needs to learn how to sing."
So thought Del McCoury watching a fresh-faced folkie named Bob Dylan yowl through a set at Newport Folk Festival in 1963. McCoury was 24 then, two years Dylan's elder and owner of the best jobs in bluegrass: lead singer and picker in the band of bluegrass godfather Bill Monroe.
"After our show, I played all night on the beach with Bill and [bluegrass act] Jim & Jesse just because we loved music," recalls McCoury. "As you get older, that wears off and you concentrate on what you're doing onstage."
When the 77-year-old genre leader takes the stage at Old Settler's on Saturday, expect a classic experience: sharp suits, big smiles, and his fivepiece – including sons Ronnie and Robbie – sharing one microphone. McCoury arrives at the Dripping Springs campout one day after the release of Del and Woody, grade-A bluegrass compositions based on unheard Woody Guthrie lyrics.
"I never did meet him like all those singer-songwriters did in the Sixties," says McCoury of Guthrie. "I only vaguely knew about Woody when he was alive because I was so into bluegrass. When I was young, his songs were on the radio, like 'Oklahoma Hills,' 'Philadelphia Lawyer,' and 'So Long, It's Been Good to Know Yuh,' but I didn't know they were written by Woody because it was country-western singers that had hits with them."
When Guthrie's daughter Nora mailed him 26 songs, written between 1935 and 1949, Woody suddenly became McCoury's writing partner.
"Some of them were typewritten and some were in his own handwriting, and he kept really great notes: where he was at when he wrote it, the year, and even the time of day! I've always written under pressure, making a song for an album, but Woody's 'the true songwriter.' He wrote about everything he heard and saw." – Kevin Curtin
Sarah Jarosz turned many Central Texans on to Milk Carton Kids. The California duo, Joey Ryan and Kenneth Pattengale, and the Wimberley native have toured together, written songs together, even taped recent appearances on Austin City Limits the same night.
"We did a whole tour together that was an enlightening experience for all of us," relates Ryan. "Definitely for me and Kenneth, because it was the first time we had been onstage with an ensemble after four years of touring just the two of us. That was really special."
These Kids' sense of humor stands in stark contrast to their somber songs. They're hymn-like, in the manner of Gillian Welch or early Simon & Garfunkel, but the pair's jovial stage patter underlines a self-deprecating worldview that recalls an Americana original: the Smothers Brothers.
"I remember one time early on in Washington, D.C.," says Ryan, "where me and Kenneth were introducing the next song and people started laughing. We thought they were laughing at us. Turned out there was something about the way we talk to each other. People got a kick out of it.
"It's developed into something we haven't written down but we could. I find equal value in improvisation and scripted comedy," says Ryan, pausing to chuckle. "I'm walking a fine line by implying that what we do is stand-up comedy, but I don't think it is." – Jim Caligiuri
"To think, people still connect so strongly to Trace. It's gratifying."
Twenty-one years after the release of Son Volt's seminal debut, bandleader Jay Farrar ponders the alt.country touchstone's staying power.
"Perhaps it's the sound juxtaposition," starts the former Uncle Tupelo singer. "Acoustic bass mixed with a full-on electric sound. It's visceral. Like the band's experienced, but not polished – the way rock bands should sound."
Between honky college-rocker "Drown" and Americana ballad "Tear Stained Eye," Trace positioned Farrar neck-and-neck with his former Tupelo bandmate Jeff Tweedy, whose own spin-off act Wilco debuted the same year. As with his sold-out gig at the Texas Union Ballroom last November, the 49-year-old revisits the poignant roots-rock disc Saturday, adding variant Old Settler's tweaks.
"We're boiling songs down to their essence, presenting them in a more elemental way," he says. "To 'Ten Second News,' we're adding twin steel guitars. It's a way to kind of reinvent the song, while still keeping it familiar."
Trailing memorial with modern, expect some Notes of Blue, which commenced recording in February.
"Austin's always been a standout town in terms of supporting music," offers Farrar. "Record stores, show turnout, great radio stations. Every link of the chain exists. As far as the few 'real city' standouts go, Austin clicks." – Neph Basedow
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