Every spring, out in the Texas Hill Country near the towns of Driftwood and Dripping Springs alongside the world famous Salt Lick BBQ on the banks of Onion Creek (you can’t make this stuff up) the Old Settler’s Music Festival sets camp for four days and all-nighters of good ol’ American music. If you’re lucky enough to get a spot you can RV or tent it next door at Camp Ben McCulloch (named after the same Texas Ranger Steve Earle sang about) and hear impromptu performances till the wee hours of the morning. My contribution to the weekend? Drinking, eating (I still have regrets about chicken-on-a-stick) and listening to what I like best: American music, in all its old-timey glory.
Justin Townes Earle
He may have got his middle name from a different Texan but I always think of Buddy Holly when I listen to Justin Townes Earle—except when his daddy Steve’s scratchy throated pain comes leaking through. He revealed that he’s working on a new album and played what might be the title track, “Single Mothers”, while joking that he and Jason Isbell have a battle going on to see if they “can make a record without any mommy or daddy issues”. Not this time, it appears. Like Buddy, Justin delivers his songs with an ease and a simplicity that belies some fine songwriting, like in the languid “Ain’t Waitin’”. This night he was singing like he knew something we didn’t. So we had to listen close. Poor us.
Although the Bakersfield sound has been a continuing influence on Jay Farrar and Son Volt, the band’s most recent album Honky Tonk is more of a tribute to that genre rather than an influence, and their set reflected that. While Farrar’s still-worn voice fits aptly with the heartbreaking pedal steel, it can’t keep pace with the band’s own personal genre, that of rock-edged alternative/traditional country. Fortunately, they brought their oldies along, too, as they soared on older cuts like “Bandages & Scars”.
Carolina Chocolate Drops
This was my first time to see the Grammy award-winning Carolina Chocolate Drops, and hopefully not my last. Their old-time, genre-crossing, race-crossing, ocean-crossing, centuries-crossing performances never sounded out of place. The audience was moving and singing along with tunes I didn’t know, and others I did like the second best version I’ve ever heard of the classic that Johnny Cash and June Carter made famous in the 1960s—“Jackson”. Opera-trained, barefooting singer Rhianna Giddens and the rest of the band may be playing “ole timey” but as musicians go they are in new league of their own.
I have to admit that I was not familiar with Dirtfoot. But I am now a fan. How could you not love a band that recorded an entire album, Live and In Prison at the Wade Correctional Facility in Homer, Louisiana ? Call it blues/soul/New Orleans/boogie/rock and roll with a slew of instruments including saxophone, banjo and fiddle. Like bands such as The Flaming Lips these guys can fool you with their craziness before you realize how talented they are as they play one of their sweaty, sing-a-long jams, “Right to Breathe”.
In all the years I’ve seen him perform, through several bands and a few self-reincarnations, I don’t think I’ve ever seen Bob Schneider disappoint an audience. His record continued on the Hill Country Stage where he combined his infectious, and underrated, songwriting with some of Austin’s best multi-instrumentalists like Jeff Plankenhorn and Bruce Hughes.
I love Martin Sexton’s voice, and as the sun was setting he had an appreciative audience clapping along (which sounded much better than the tiresome drum machine he was using) as he did fan favorites like “Things You Do To Me.” On the other hang (maybe it’s because I’m a child of the 60s) the decision to do a cheery-sounding, upbeat version of Buffalo Springfield’s classic “For What It’s Worth” is almost sacrilegious.
The Del McCoury Band
Formed in 1967 The Del McCoury Band still has the bluegrass power to get a crowd going. My personal favorite track: “Nashville Cats”.
The Reivers are called “one of America’s great lost bands” for good reason. The originality from their 1980s albums never reached a commercial audience. Back performing after the release of a new album, they were well-received by their Austin-based fans.
Though he may not be the rage he was when I first saw him at ACL Fest in 2007 just after his Grammy-nomination, the crowd at OSM Fest were just as appreciative. The James Hunter Six put down a classic-sounding, soul-filled performance with songs like “Carina.”