"What are all these people and campers doing at Camp Ben McCulloch - it's only Tuesday! They're here early to party, sing, pick, BBQ, reacquaint with friends, and have fun before the 29th annual Old Settler's Music Festival 'officially' kicks off on Thursday night in the campground." We thought we would get to Camp Ben McCulloch early to find a site near a water and electric hook-up - and we were surprised to find how many campers and tents were already set up. A couple people we talked to said they arrived on Thursday of last week!
There are no assigned sites - it's set up your campsite where ever you want on any of the 40 acres at Camp Ben McCulloch. We pulled into an open area near the entrance and within 5 hours we were surrounded by travel trailers and motorhomes and a huge white party tent, a large fire ring where several people sang and picked until the rain drove them into the tent, and an outdoor kitchen where the smell of bacon woke me up early the next morning. A large part of the fun at Old Settler's Music Festival is getting to know your fellow friendly campers who are always willing to share a story, offer a cold drink or a bite to eat, or invite you to sit and sing or pick with them around their campsite. So if you plan on attending Old Settler's music Festival next year you should consider camping.
What started 29 years ago with less than a 100 fans, a few bluegrass musicians, and a free keg of beer has now turned into a week long party with hundreds of campers, four stages with over 40 talented artists over 4 days, several food and merchandise vendors, and more than 20,000 music fans! Even though the Festival has grown there is still a keg (or 3) that's free when the music starts on Thursday night in the campground and the music has expanded to a wide variety of genres with award winning talent from around the world.
We've been coming to Old Settler's Music Festival for the last 10 years and it's clearly one of our favorite Texas music festivals because:
Campground Stage Line-up
Thursday highlights were an extremely lively and enjoyable set by the Brothers Comatose from California and the opportunity to meet all of the fellow camper at the nose of our RV and getting invited to pull up a chair and sip a beer and enjoy some superb singin' and pickin' - and only having to stagger home less than 50 feet!
Another highlight was that the very accomplished and well-known musician Walt Wilkins showed up at our new friends campsite as a birthday surprise for one of the campers. Walt spent an hour or more pickin' and playin' and singin' with a group of very talented singers and musicians. What a fantastic hour of music. Don't miss an opportunity to see Walt Wilkins and The Mystiqueros - they play around Austin, Fredericksburg, and lots more nearby places.
The bad news about attending Old Settler's Music Festival is that it's impossible (unless you only listen to 30 or so minutes of one band and then hustle over to the other stage) to catch all of the performing artists. Which means it's important to study the program which has a detailed description of each artist to decide who you want to listen to and we always talk to fellow music fans and get their opinions on some of their favorite artists. As hard as we tried we still missed several of the artists that we would have liked to listen to.
Campground Stage - Yoga Class and Korn Dog King Presents Picking for the Campers with several good local artists
Hill Country Stage
The Discovery Stage had workshops with The HillBenders; Kent Finlay (Dream reading and singing); and Della Mae doing a song writing workshop.
Friday's Highlights - what a great day of music: Hayes Carll is always enjoyable to listen to; Rodney Crowell was outstanding; and this was the first time we've seen the Dawes and we loved them. The HillBenders transformation of The Who's rock opera "Tommy" into an acclaimed bluegrass hit was outstanding. And the rain stayed away! We missed the After Show March from the stage area back to the campground. But we were full of energy when we got back to the campground and joined our fellow campers for drinks, music, and laughs until around 2:30.
Hill Country Stage
Old Settler's Music Festival Highlights for Saturday included: a rousing performance by Shinyribs and very enjoyable sets by two bands we had never seen before - Green River Ordnance and Dustbowl Revival. Unfortunately, the cold drizzle of rain that started around 10:30 PM drove us back to our camper before one of our favorites (Bob Schneider) ended a great day of music at Old Settlers.
Campground Stage Line-up on Sunday at Old Settler's Music Festival
Highlights - to me the best day of music that I've enjoyed over the last 10 years at Old Settler's Music Festival has almost always been at the Camp Ben McCulloch campground stage on Sunday. I think it's because the setting is beautiful (an open air pavilion with tall trees and picnic tables outside the stage) and intimate (you can get up close to the artists) setting, the fans are there for the music, and the line-up is always fantastic. And this Sunday's line-up was no exception - everyone was outstanding and Shinyribs brought the house down and ended the festival leading a congo line of dancers around the outside of the pavilion and back across the stage. A fitting end to another fun Old Settler's Music Festival.
Camping is the best way to truly experience Old Settler's Music Festival - there is no worry about having to drive home as a campground shuttle bus will take you from the campground to the stage area; you'll get to meet some very friendly and outgoing music lovers; and it's impossible to beat the music in the campground that is continuous at various campsites from 10 AM to 4 AM.
Here is just a small example of the campground camaraderie we experienced this year - unbeknownst to us we parked in the outside edge of a group of 10 RVs (there were only two when we first arrived) that have been coming to Old Settler's and camping together for several years. In the center of their camp they set up chairs, a fire pit, two huge canopies, tables, and a big cooking grill. It was impossible not to get to know each of these 20 or so friendly folks and over the next few days they invited us to join them for pickin' and singin' (starting around noon and going on until after 2 PM), laughin' and story or joke tellin', enjoying a cold beer or margarita out of their margarita machine, or devouring a good breakfast (egg casserole, French toast, or eggs, bacon, and hash browns) as well as an early dinner, one of which was a crawfish boil with 120 pounds of crawfish, potatoes, corn, and more. Fun group of people and can't wait to join them next year.
So if you're thinking about coming to Old Settler's next year, you should plan on camping. Campsites are not marked and they are on a first come first served basis and if you get there on a Friday afternoon, it may be hard to find a place to park a camper - there's always lots of room for tents down by the creek.
Part of the fun of Old Settler's Music Festival is getting to know some of the fans or reacquainting with music lovers that you met last year. The fans range from 2 to 92, come from all walks of life, and seem to really love music. They're mature, fun loving, friendly, and outgoing.The Festival is very kid friendly, in fact the campground has a playground and the main stage area has lots of kids activities ranging from face painting to "get to know a musical instrument" to pony rides, bean bag toss, bounce house, petting zoo, and more.
Click on this link to see more pictures from Old Settler's 2016 Music Festival
Hope to see you there next year!
Our thanks go out to Jean Spivey (executive director), Scott Marshall (president of the board), all the staff and hundreds of volunteers who make this a fantastic music festival. A portion of the proceeds benefit the Kids in a New Groove youth foster care organization, the Health Alliance for Austin Musicians, and the Center for Texas Music History. In addition, Old Settlers is committed to growing and supporting musicians who want to pursue a career in music and they offer scholarships as well as youth talent competitions.