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Tuning up with Dave Alvin &
the Guilty Women at the
2009 Old Settler's Music Festival
City Slickers Meet the Old Settlers
Old Settler's Music Festival 2009 Review
by Lucas Everidge
I dragged my friend Tim with me to last weekend's highly publicized jamboree: The Old Settler's Music Festival, which was about a thirty minute drive out of Austin on the lovely old Ben McCoullough campgrounds in Spicewood, Texas.
My own home rests comfortably in smart, urban west Austin, while my friend resides in the heart of condo and concrete midtown Dallas. We were both just full of anticipation, thinking of being able to relax listening to some great live music.
Excitement mounted as we drove. We pulled off the farm to market road and into the parking area. And then... we saw all the mud.
Yes, sudden Texas Spring storms had been rolling through Central Texas over the past few days, and we hadn't really thought about the consequences of downpours out in the country. Goodbye big city lights and drainage services!
Turns out, for proper enjoyment, folks should bring with them an oversized beach towel and some folding chairs. (This is kind of a Texas rockabilly twist on the Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy's first commandment to always know where your towel is.)
Fortunately our box-shaped Chevrolet compact car fielded the wet, muddy field which was the designated parking just fine, and we parked. The good news is after getting over this first shock, things went uphill from there. Inside the park, the grounds were free of mud, with just rolling grassy hills and giant trees.
In its sixteenth year, the festival is an annual weekend event where musicians perform around the park on three different stages. The music is a mix between bluegrass acoustic jazz and the blues. If Janis Jopin were still around, she would probably have shown up.
This year's headliners were Robert Earl Keen, the BoDeans, Ray Wylie Hubbard and over thirty other musical groups.
Who Are the Old Settler's?
What exactly would the Old Settler's Music Festival be like? Would I be walking into a noisy jam populated by aging Dead Heads?
In today's world of relentless top forty radio, you are probably not going to hear many of these groups. The people attending Old Settler's understand this, and revel in the specialness of the event. It turns out, this wasn't just an old Grateful Dead jam. People all ages, creeds and colors were enjoying themselves.
There were older Yuppies with grey hair, as well as young folks walking around in tie dye. Lots of families brought the kids, who spent the day playing with the numerous hula hoops that lay all around the entire campground.
We met folks visiting from all over, such as northern California to Atlanta, Georgia. Which brings another nice aspect to the show - Old Settler's takes place on a campground, so people actually bring tents and equipment to camp there that weekend over in the adjacent lot. The end result is a weekend where you go listen to music, eat, go back to the camp and nap. Awaken later. More music. Then perhaps cook around the campfire. Awaken the following day, and repeat until Sunday.
If any of you have attended music festivals recently, Old Settler's is a breath of fresh air. It's not absolutely mobbed to the point that it's no fun. The grounds are lively and crowded, but not swamped. There were lines to purchase food and beer, but not at all bad.
The Salt Lick maintained their own food booth, and heck, their world-famous barbecue is worth standing in line ten minutes for anytime. And most importantly, everyone was super-friendly.
Click to Listen
We visited on Saturday afternoon where the mid-afternoon heat inspired the purchase a delicious Gringo Honeymoon smoothie, a tasty libation of orange juice, pineapple, papaya and banana for four dollars.
For an extra dollar you can Willify your smoothie with hemp seed. (I can only image what that does...) Between the performance stages, a midway bustles with people selling tacos, wraps, gyros, ice cream and fresh lemonade. Further down, T-shirts and local crafts beckoned.
I thoroughly enjoyed watching Dave Alvin and the Guilty Women perform songs from their new album. I never learned what these women were guilty of, but they played great.
Later the sun set and I lay underneath the canopy of old live oaks listening to Ray Wylie Hubbard - it was fantastic! Lots of people were dancing to the music in front of the stage, while others sat listening and sipped a beer. We had to leave way too soon, but thousands of others clearly had a great time.
The Old Settlers Music Festival is without question one of live music's best kept secrets. Go to their website and get on the mailing list for the next show. Consider camping out there, but you do not have to. You will have an unforgettable and uniquely Austin music weekend.
Lucas Everidge lives in a comfortable, urbanized neighborhood of Austin, Texas.