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23rd Annual Old Settlers Music Festival Review

The 2010 Old Settlers Music Festival got started with a rousing round of outstanding music from 5 bands on the campground stage on Thursday night under a rainy sky! Thursday night was a perfect example of why we love this festival and keep coming back year after year:

The five bands on Thursday night came from Tennessee to Alaska and the music included jazz and swing from the Jitterbug Vipers; traditional bluegrass (Barefoot); gonzograss (a blend of bluegrass, gypsy, swing, folk, reggae, and jazz from Green Mountain Boys); instrumental virtuosity, stunning improvisations, and unbelievable harmony from The Infamous Stringdusters; and the polka rock band Brave Combo. All of the bands were great, but Brave Combo stole the show and had everyone under the pavilion roof dancing to their lively dance music that included polkas, rumba, cha-cha-chas, choro, samba, two-step, cumbia, charanga, and more as the seven talented musicians belted out some unbelievable sounds from every instrument imaginable - tuba, clarinet, keyboards, drums, guitars, trombone, harmonica, accordion, mouth pick, and more. We hated to see them bring their high energy and spirited set to an end. A very fun evening and a great start to the 23rd Annual Old Settlers Music Festival. What a way to start - can it get any better than that?

The answer was YES!

Old Settlers Music Festival is held at the Salt Lick Pavilion in Driftwood with Onion Creek bordering one side of this multi acre property - it's a perfect setting for a weekend of Americana music. On Friday and Saturday, the music (or other events like Yoga) starts at the Campground Stage and then moves to the Salt Like Pavilion where music kicks off on three stages. The Hill Country Stage is the headliner stage and in a big field bordered by the creek, stage, and vendors. A short walk from the Hill Country Stage takes you to the Discovery Stage which is Salt Lick's covered pavilion overlooking the creek and trees. The Bluebonnet Stage is set under the stately live oaks - the perfect place to lay back on the grass, stare at the stars, and listen to some excellent music. This is a bring your own lawn chairs event, but you can't bring in food or alcohol.

Main stage at Old SettlersBluebonnet State at Old SettlersDiscovery Stage at Salt Lick Pavilion

Friday's music ranged from the traditional bluegrass thump and throb of an upright bass, the howl of a fiddle, the melodious trickle of a mandolin, and the resounding rhythm of an acoustic guitar (Green Mountain Grass) to the soulful voice of Ruthie Foster belting out some blues ballads and gospel numbers to Joe Ely's energetic set of rock, hard country, blues, Tex-Mex, and flamenco. Joe's set was worth the price of admission. Some of the other highlights from Friday's music included:

Ruthie FosterOld Settlers Music FestivalJoe ElyAlejandro Escovedo

Again, the evening ended too soon after a phenomenal set from Joe Ely. After the music stops, the road to the campground is closed and the concert campers walk as a group back to the campground. The camaraderie, the laughter, and the singing make this an enjoyable leisurely stroll back to the campground. And the music starts again at the campfires and campsites spread under the cedars, oaks, and stars and typically goes on until the sun rises! Meandering from campfire to campfire you'll hear a wide variety of very talented musicians, some of who had already performed on one of the main stages.

After a short night, and with a somewhat clouded and tired head, it was off the Hill Country Stage on Saturday morning at 11 for another full day of outstanding music from 24 bands and musicians. The Bluebonnet Stage started with the youth talent competition and the winner played later that afternoon. The Discovery Stage was home to a variety of workshops - fiddle, mandolin, harmonica, and songwriting - and three excellent bands - Giving Tree Band, Ruby Jane (wow, lots of energy as this little dynamo beat out a rousing rhythm from the nine instruments she plays - fiddle, mandolin, guitar, harmonica, banjo, dobro, piano, drums, and spoons!), and Special Consensus. Our favorites included:

Fred Eaglesmith

Saturday was a fun day filled with a variety of outstanding musicians making music. But Sunday's music the last two years has been a highlight for me. The Rockin' Gospel Project, a combination of band members from several different bands that share a love for "Hippy Church" kicked the music off at 11 at the Campground Stage with a mixture of cultures and musical styles blended into some first class gospel music. One of the country's most sought after traditional bluegrass bands, The Special Consensus, was next with a hard driving and highly talented ensemble of four musicians. One of the top bluegrass draws with three decades of award winning bluegrass and gospel music, Doyle Lawson and Quicksilver, kept the small crowd entertained for the next hour with tight harmony and instrumental prowess.

Then our favorite, Fred Eaglesmith and his band (sometimes known as The Flying Squirrels and at other times known as The Flathead Noodlers), entertained us with both his between song stories and humor as well as his unique voice and songs. And what a close by the down home authenticity of The Gourds - the campground pavilion was packed and there wasn't a person sitting in their chairs, everyone was dancing and singing to their lively and rambunctious mandolin, fiddle, piano, drum, guitar, and accordion playing.

If you're planning on attending the 24th annual, and you should be, then take Thursday off, pack up the tent, motor home, or trailer and spend the weekend camping at Camp Ben McCullock which is home to the Campground Stage and a few blocks to the other stages. Camping is a tad haphazard and it is first come first serve with no designated sites but there always seems to be enough room for everybody. Don't count on water or electricity and the showers and bathrooms are limited and aren't the best (there is usually a Pay-For-A-Shower) - but the fun level is high in the campground and it seems there is an open invitation to pull up a chair and join the campfire and camaraderie. Onion Creek also borders the edge of the campground and is a fantastic place to tent camp and a dip in the creek is cool and refreshing.

Picking in the campgroundTent camping under the treesA refreshing dip in Onion CreekCamping at Old Settlers

The campground is across the street from the infamous Salt Lick BBQ if you get hungry. Around the main Hill Country Stage you'll find a variety of arts and crafts, tie die shirts and skirts and scarf's to get you in the mood, a few food vendors (popcorn, ice cream, gyros, Salt Lick BBQ, and more), and cold beer and wine for sale. You could easily walk to the main stage area from the campground but it is discouraged because of the narrow back country winding road. School buses will shuttle you to and from the campground to the stages and it's a short two minute ride. In fact, the bus is usually pretty lively and it's a good opportunity to get to know your fellow campers, share some concert memories, or to get some opinions on who not to miss on that day.

Old Settlers is like going back to our old hippie days in San Francisco - tie die shirts and skirts, long hair, free spirits, good music, excellent vibes, hula hoops, lots of dancing, and everyone out for a good time. Each year we see the same fun and music loving spirits and you won't find a more kid and family friendly multi day event with some of the friendliest people and best music of the year. Everyone always seems to have a smile on their face and a nice thing to say and seems eager to meet or talk with you. Kids will enjoy the sand pile, the multitude of hula hoops waiting to be used, the face painting, the campground playground, and more.

Old Settlers Music Festival is also a benefit for Health Alliance for Austin Musicians which provides access to affordable health care to Austin's low income, uninsured working musicians and Camp Fire USA Balcones Council which is a non profit coeducational youth organization for youth aged 3 to 18.

Our thanks go out to Jean Spivey, Old Settler's Executive Director, and the hundreds of volunteers who make this a fun, entertaining, and very well organized music festival. If you haven't already, you need to break out your calendar and add Old Settlers Music Festival to you 2011 calendar. See you next year.

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