Old Settler's Music Fest - Patty Griffin, Buddy Miller & a Gram Parsons experience
Stopping in for a bit of music at the Old Settler's Music Festival is like slipping into the '60s, like hanging at a mini-Woodstock. Proper attire is hippie authentic (as opposed to hippie chic found mostly in southern California). The waft of ganga occasionally drifts through. They even have the requisite rain storm with accompanying mud. But it don't mean a thing if it ain't got the music, something OSMF has plenty of. The weekend even extended into an interesting connection to Gram Parsons and Alice In Chains singer Layne Staley.
It started out as a bluegrass oriented family picnic some twenty odd years ago but has turned into one of the more popular Americana music fests. With picturesque Onion Creek murmuring nearby, and the stomach-growling smells of Salt Lick BBQ (I had my share later, along with some delicious fried eggplant), I got there just in time to see Austinite Ruthie Foster with her roots rocking, bluesing, funking, kicking band. And the voice to go with it. Made it over to another stage to hear Alison (every time I mention her name someone says "You mean Alison Krauss?") Brown with Joe Craven. This Alison, and her band, play bluegrass with a jazz-like intensity highlighted by amazing chops--like Jeff Beck on grits.
I doubled back by the only indoor venue and caught some more traditional bluegrass from Green Mountain Grass before getting over to Alejandro Escovedo. Playing with his full band he had no intention of changing his sound to fit the Old Settlers history and everyone seemed fine with that. He took time to dedicate "Sister Lost Soul" to two greats recently lost, Alex Chilton and Stephen Bruton. And then he took it to the hills with "Always A Friend". The new stuff off his upcoming album Street Songs of Love sounds pretty alright, too. My night closed with another Texan, Joe Ely, one of the most underrated live performers in the country. The closest you can come without actually seeing him and his reunited band is his classic Live At Liberty Lunch album.
The next afternoon began, for me, with the sacred steel band the Lee Boys from Florida. By the end of their set I was ready to testify! Next was the in-demand producer/guitarist/singer Buddy Miller who is busier than ever after last year's heart attack. He has been touring with Patty Griffin who got up and sang with him and he returned the favor during her performance later that night. Buddy sang a good amount from the stunning 2009 album he recorded with wife Julie, Written In Chalk. In between his and Griffin's sets I chatted with each of them from the refuge of their tour bus during one of Texas' infamous gully-washer rainstorms. (Paste will be posting the interviews in the near future.) Patty calls the rest of the all male band she travels with a bunch of "fashionistas" saying they each had more clothes than she. Both were excited about their new supergroup, Band of Joy, with Robert Plant. The band's album, produced by Miller, should be released late this Summer.
Much of Griffin's set consisted of the Miller-produced Downtown Church. With the rain and the delays and all the traveling she does I am amazed at the unrelenting beauty of Griffin's voice. It's a voice that reaches some sort of National Treasure status. One that her albums, as good as they are, don't match the experience of hearing her live. Lucky for me, my Patty Griffin experience extended beyond OSMF. During the festival I met actor Lathan McKay who will be playing Alice In Chains singer Layne Staley in an upcoming biopic. On the last day of the fest I found myself with a gathering of Austin talent, including McKay, at the south Austin home of Polly Parsons, the daughter of the late, great Gram Parsons. Photos, notes and guitars from the the ex-Byrd and ex-Flying Burrito Brother were wonderfully scattered about the walls. Parsons, considered to be one of the pioneers of "Country Rock", had recorded his last album with then-unknown Emmylou Harris. The same Emmylou who introduced Patty Griffin's voice to Buddy Miller a decade ago. The same Emmylou who sang with Griffin and Miller on the next night's taping of an episode of "Austin City Limits". (See how I linked this story back to Griffin?)
On the sixth floor stage of the famed studio Griffin truly shined. With Buddy Miller helping out on guitar and vocals Griffin ran through many of the same songs she did at Old Settlers. But the magic of the show brought out the best in her and the band with songs like "Heavenly Day" and "I Smell A Rat". An added bonus was Emmylou, along with Shawn Colvin, Mike Farris and the McCrary Sisters all singing backup on several of the songs like "Coming Home To Me" and "Little Fire". A gratifying conclusion to an exceptional weekend of music.