I’m racing the clock on the narrow, pitch black ranch roads that lead into Dale, Texas. The cold winds could take you off into a ditch if you’re not aware of the land, and a sharp memory will lead you into the dawn as reception dissipates and the collective spirit fills your soul.
The 35th annual Old Settler’s Music Festival returned on the open plains southeast of Austin with Zach Person and Maggie Belle headlining as campers built their weekend oasis. The grounds have a welcoming layout, with a major road guiding you past the main stage into the after party.
Artist in Residence Del McCoury brought his magnificent band to keep the deep rooted traditions of folk music alive. The organizers brought Leftover Salmon and JJ Grey to close out the Friday night. The transition from traditional to mountain jam to funky was a well placed line up and set the mood for an all night party.
I’m guided through the decorated trailers and tents by a festival shuttle and hear a faint roar of trombones and mandolins. A giant song circle is hidden just behind the trees in Banjo City.
A picker’s circle in Banjo City. Photo by Andrew Blanton.
It’s difficult to look at such a prominent line-up and convey that the festival goers themselves stole the show. Old Settler’s is a nod to the legends that brought us together and the working artists that can command a festival crowd, but the song circles that polka dot the campgrounds truly leave you in wonder.
A wave of vibration pulses out as a 1920s era jug band song fuels the party. Every instrument that projects a note is celebrating in unison as red cups are passed around. Hearing that many instruments work together was a joy.
I’m guided by a trail of string lights and tapestries as I search for Zen City. Shane Cooley is scheduled to perform the first official after hours show to release his album “Forest.” Over a hundred campers gathered to fill the decorated tents that surround the wooden platform.
Shane Cooley performs at Old Settlers. Photo by Andrew Blanton.
Attendees listened silently throughout and cheered as Lori Ellen joined to sing harmonies. An orchestra microphone provided a gentle level of sound. The hour long performance was insightful and the years of songwriting from Cooley was displayed with all of his wonder.
Saturday was an eclectic sound, starting with Brennen Leigh giving western swing new life. Unofficial President of Texas Flaco Jimenez joined Los Texmaniacs for a Tejano party that shook the lawn. The Suffers brought the Houston vibe into the country and their band got everyone on their feet. Railroad Earth and Galactic closed the main stage.
Shane Cooley and Lori Ellen perform at Old Settler’s. Photo by Andrew Blanton.
The final party lasted until dawn as hundreds of musicians wore the callus’ off their fingers. To see this many musicians come together in honor of the great artists that paved the way, and bring a collective spirit the world has been yearning for was a joy. For more information visit: