Mid-April in Texas means it’s time to drive through the bluebonnets out to the Old Settler’s Music Festival, for some Salt Lick BBQ, cold craft beer on tap, and some of the best music America has to offer. Old Settler’s is the world class festival in the Austin area that’s not over-grown, over-hyped, and over-crowded. Here’s a few of our favorites playing this weekend.
Sam Bush – Friday, 8:15pm-9:45pm
Pushing bluegrass into new horizons earned Sam Bush the title King of Newgrass. His bluegrass roots fuse with elements of other genres to make new but familiar sounds. An animated entertainer, Bush’s mandolin playing will blindside you, as will the rest of his backing band.
Hot Rize – Saturday, 5:45pm-7pm
Old Settler’s has a long history with roots music, and knows a thing or two about booking real deal bluegrass like Hot Rize. Acclaimed bluegrass traditionalists Hot Rize influenced a generation of other musicians before they retired from the stage in 1990. The classic recipe calls for heavy servings of fiddle, mandolin, banjo, bass, and acoustic guitar. The reformed Hot Rize is still a fresh creative force, touring behind a studio album of new material.
Jeff Austin Band – Saturday, 3:10pm-4:20pm
Jeff Austin was a founding member and longtime mandolinist with jamgrass purveyors Yonder Mountain String Band. These days he’s doing his own thing with less jams, more hooks, and a focus on tight arrangements. Expect fireworks from the supergroup of sorts touring as his backing band. The Jeff Austin Band includes musical assassins Danny Barnes on banjo, Ross Martin on guitar, Eric Thorin on bass, and Cody Dickinson (from the North Mississippi Allstars) on percussion.
Robert Earl Keen – Saturday, 10:30pm-midnight
Keen tried a different approach on his new release Happy Prisoner: The Bluegrass Sessions. The resulting album serves up a Texgrass spin on classic bluegrass. Danny Barnes regularly performs his banjo hysterics live with Robert Earl Keen, and ol’ Danny is already booked at the festival. Will we get to see Danny guest on a solo or two with Keen? Will Keen’s set feature songs from their new bluegrass album? Come on down to find out.
The Mavericks – Friday, 10:30pm-midnight
The Mavericks make highly danceable music from an unclassifiable blend of country music, Latin beats, rock band energy, and soulful crooning. Their last stop in Austin was a sold out ACL Live at The Moody Theater gig. Equally at home in swanky downtown venues or Texas dance halls, this band will be fun to watch outdoors under the hill country stars, especially with their diverse group of fans.
Israel Nash – Saturday, 12:10-1:05pm
The former Israel Nash Gripka, now simply billed as Israel Nash, dropped his last name after relocating across the country to Dripping Springs, a symbolic rebirth of a new life and a new direction in sound. Less name, more volume, tighter Crazy Horse-like band cohesion. Nash’s recent batch of songs were crafted while soaking up the Hill Country lifestyle, so at Old Settler’s you can hear these songs in their birthplace. Music, like wine or bourbon, tastes better when consumed in the hills that produce it. Created locally, but gathering acclaim globally, his new album Rain Plans is a worthy blend of analog-era rock, Americana, and personal songwriting informed by a sense of place. During live shows, when the full band synchs together (which is usually the entire set), they appear energized from the music, unable to sit still, propelled into moving and dancing around stage, instruments in hand. A quick disclaimer for the record: one of band members has the exact same name as me, but I am not the pedal steel player hyping my own band. May we never meet in person, because like the Highlander there can only be one of us. And it would probably be him. Israel Nash and band have an early Saturday daytime set. See them up close and personal while you can, the crowds are catching on.
Lost Bayou Ramblers – Saturday, 6:10pm-7:25pm
Straight outta Lafayette Parish, the center of Cajun culture, this progressive Cajun music band has a fun modern take on the traditional South Louisiana music they grew up with. Their songs still feature fiddle, accordion, and vocals in Cajun French, but it’s also got enough rocking drums and electric bass to earn them an opening slot on Arcade Fire’s tour.
Chuck Prophet & The Mission Express – Saturday, 9:20pm-10:30pm
When Alejandro Escovedo was booked in 2010, real animal rock-n-roll was imported straight from South Congress to the main stage of Old Settlers. This year the festival booked Alejandro’s frequent songwriting collaborator and surf buddy Chuck Prophet. These two musical brothers built similar career paths, both starting as the band guitarist before stepping into the spotlight as a band leader. Prophet’s raucous early days set the foundation for evolving into a more countrified and insightful songwriter. Time moves forward, but Prophet’s edge is still there and is on display Saturday night.
Kevin Russell gets the honor of two closing spots, one as the Saturday night midnight finale, and another as the last act closing down the campground stage on Sunday. After years of festival appearances with the Gourds under his belt, he’s somehow still finding a way to reach new career peaks in his Shinyribs manifestation. Still rooted in the Americana universe, his sound now covers a broader range from acapella to ukulele strumming to full on honky-tonk dancing. The man’s got the creative flow I guess. Songs and dance moves pour out of Russell, if the moment calls for it, he’ll dance like a flamingo taking flight or bounce around like a dashboard Jesus. When it happens, just roll with it, that’s what he’s doing.
The 2015 Old Settler’s Music Festival takes place Thursday April 16 through Sunday the 19th. Full lineup and ticket information can be found at: http://oldsettlersmusicfest.org/