Old Settler’s Festival – Austin, Texas, Friday April 11, 2014
Now in its 27th year The Old Settler’s Festival remains a comfortable event despite the remarks of a few attendees that it was getting ‘really big.’ If 8,000 is big then I’ll take it any day. Friday evening might have been nearly sold out but you could still find plenty of space to sit at either of the two stages in the afternoon sun or in some of the shady spots. Last year’s event was uncharacteristically cold, this time around it was comfortable. I bought along a sweater just in case and used it late in the evening.
Of course, the headliner was Jeff Bridges, who is never going to escape ‘The Dude’ tag but his connection via the film Crazy Heart to revered local musician Stephen Bruton enabled him to make an immediate connection. Bridges tossed in the Bruton and T Bone Burnett references as often as possible and even found time to mention Ryan Bingham and play his song ‘The Weary Kind’ from Crazy Heart.
Naturally enough, Bridges headline set relied heavily on songs from Crazy Heart and from his own 2011 eponymous solo album. The songs fit Bridges voice well and he was helped by a crack band who carry him along well enough so he can relax. After all, he is an actor not a full-time singer! And he acquited himself well, charmed the crowd and proved that he was not out of place.
Preceding Bridges on the main Hill Country stage, Shovels & Rope – Cary Ann Hearst and Michael Trent – were exceptional. They come across like a much more upbeat Civil Wars. I know comparisons are odious but that is one that came to mind. In this case, the audience reacted strongly to an entertaining set, sprinkled with some new songs and plenty of great harmonies.
As for comparisons, there were some being made between Dr Ralph Stanley, 87, and bluesman BB King , 88, who got a caning in the press for his erratic performance in St Louis this week. Obviously, Stanley has slowed down and he walks gingerly on and off stage but he is still in total command. The voice is worn but what a thrill to hear him even attempt ‘O Death.’ a capella. Dr Stanley’s band provides the colour but he remains the centrepiece and most people agreed that it was great to be in the presence of a legend.
I only caught the end of the set from St Paul &The Broken Bones on the Bluebonnet Stage because it clashed with Ralph Stanley but if the reception the band got for the final few songs is anything to go by then their future is assured. To say that the crowd went wild is not an understatement. They finished with an epic reading of ‘A Change Is Gonna Come.’ Very timely given the Civil Rights Conference in town this week. They play in New Orleans next month and I will definitely put them on my list of must-sees.
Bob Schneider is a local who should be an international star but for some reason is not. Perhaps his music is too eclectic. Nevertheless, he proved a fine closing act for the first night, while on the Bluebonnet The North Mississippi Allstars really rocked the place out to finish the night. ‘Rollin’ & Tumblin’ (from their latest album World Boogie Is Coming) is a classic no matter who does it (even Dylan) and in Hill Country style it is mighty.
A brief opener for Old Settler’s but a full day tomorrow.