Festival Heartstrings Interview

Old Settler’s and New Friends: Old Settler’s Music Festival 2016

By Lauren Jahoda

Not only was this our first visit to Old Settler’s Music Festival, but it was also our first time in the great state of Texas. And I must say that I couldn’t have chosen a better way to get acquainted with this beautiful and massive state than through Old Settler’s Music Festival. The festival is nestled just outside Austin in the small community of Driftwood, amid the endless landscape of rolling hills, wildflowers and shade trees. The festival grounds are situated at the Salt Lick Pavilion and Camp Ben McCulloch, near (and part of) the famous Salt Lick BBQ. The grounds include two larger stages – the Hill Country Stage and the Bluebonnet Stage — and two additional smaller stages – the Discovery Stage and the Campground Stage. Bluebonnet was a personal favorite, as it’s slightly more intimate and it’s situated beneath the cascade of oak trees and beside the falls of the breathtaking Onion Creek.

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Every inch of this festival is well thought of and cared for, including attendance size, stage and vendor locations and the ease of flow of both road and foot traffic. For us music freaks, a consideration we appreciate above most, is the careful timing of the artists’ sets. With a lineup like Old Settler’s, no one wants to find out that their two favorite bands are playing on separate stages at the same time. At Old Settler’s the set times on the two main stages did unavoidably overlap, but just slightly, because  a conscious effort was clearly made to schedule the performances so that festival goers had ample time to see every artist on the roster.

Another favorite feature to the festival is its family-friendly atmosphere. It’s heartwarming to watch families with their young children taking part in the festivities, enjoying the music and applauding after each song. And as nighttime falls on the festival, these families stay. You will find many of the parents still listening, as many of the children have fallen asleep, appearing to have powered down after hours of continuous fun. Many of the artists we encountered and observed throughout the weekend had their families with them. Joey Ryan of the Milk Carton Kids even joked during his set that this was the first festival that his (two-year-old) son enjoyed.

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We also spoke with Kenneth Pattengale, of the Milk Carton Kids, behind the Bluebonnet Stage just before his performance Saturday night. We discussed Monterey, one of our favorite albums, a record which he excitedly explained was completed on a very modest budget (which they recorded, mixed and mastered themselves). They brought their recording gear with them on tour and recorded the majority of the tracks while on the road, and finished up the last five tracks in a church in Nashville. As we got to know Pattengale a little more, I finally asked him to honestly answer how they feel about the frequent comparison to Simon & Garfunkel. It’s something I’ve been wondering about for a long time. He laughed and said they love it, and pointed out that Simon & Garfunkel have some of the best harmonies of all time. He joked and said he also likes to bring up the comparison while on stage, which he did on the Bluebonnet Stage just an hour later — He likes to joke that they don’t mind the comparison because everyone knows which one of them would be Garfunkel and points to Joey. Pattengale also mentioned that he’s been compared to Dave Rawlings, and that he doesn’t quite see it but he’s happy to be compared to one of his favorite guitar players of all time.

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After their second rousing set on Friday, Della Mae told us they are excited to be heading off to Vietnam next week, representing the United States as part of the US State Department’s American Music Abroad Program. We also talked with David Ramirez just following his midday set on Saturday, as he explained how happy he is with the band and the different vibe of his newer album, Fables, which was produced by friend and fellow musician, Noah Gunderson (whose brother is now the drummer for Ramirez). Ramirez said that Gunderson was the perfect producer for Fables, and that he plans to spend the next few months touring and getting back to the studio. On the final day of the festival, we spoke with our friends, The Band of Heathens at the Campground Stage. We last met with them in September for AmericanaFest and were excited to be able to catch up. Gordy Quist told us that their next record is complete and they are working towards setting a release date. They’ll be continuing touring at their current pace and ramping up with a more rigorous schedule in the fall. The Band of Heathens played their set on the Campground Stage with so much energy that nobody in attendance seemed to notice the lightning, thunder claps and torrential rain that fell on the campgrounds. What’s a little flooding when there is good music playing?

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For us, the list of amazing moments from the weekend goes on and on. It includes more of these happy meetings with musicians whom we admire greatly, exceptional Texas hospitality, and getting to know the nicest of folks at almost every turn, such as the audience members, volunteers, artists, security officers, sound/equipment techs and beverage/food servers. As we were leaving the campgrounds on the last day of the festival, we were fortunate to top the weekend off with a final rewarding Old Settler’s moment — the chance to meet with festival organizer and producer, Jean Spivey. We found her house-right inside the campground pavilion with the rest of the crowd, as it poured all around us. We learned that Spivey once worked as a volunteer and in the merch tent for Old Settler’s, and now is the reason the festival is as successful as it is today. Spivey is from Maryland and has lived in various areas in order to dedicate her career to the arts for many years, and when she traveled to Austin for SXSW twenty-something years ago, she moved there nine months later and hasn’t left since. We are thankful for all that she does to make Old Settler’s the wonderful and fulfilling experience that it is year after year. We’re already looking forward to next year!

Photos by Lauren Jahoda

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