Old Settler's 2002 Music Festival
Yeeeeeeee - Haaaaaaw! Man, I've just come back from Hillbilly Heaven! Those bluegrass lovin' folks that attended the 15th Annual Old Settler's Music Festival on April 19-21, 2002 (Friday, Saturday & Sunday) at the Salt Lick Pavilion in Driftwood, Texas know that they indeed went to Music Heaven, lived to tell about it and will most certainly come back again next year!
This year's event scored a Perfect 10 on the Bluegrass Perfection Scale. Honestly, it is hard to think of any major improvement that would be necessary to make this year's event any better than it was. For this absolutely perfect event to happen, lots of hard work, at least 8 months worth, is required from the dedicated festival staff, volunteers, sponsors and artists. Without these folks putting out a 100 % effort for the love of music, this event would not have happened!
Besides providing a venue for a wide variety of music for melody lovers, this year's festival was dedicated to benefiting Austin Sunshine Camps, Capital Area Food Bank and the Women's Advocacy Project. In addition to these worthy causes, the young folks had a chance to compete for money and prizes in the Old Settler's Music Festival Youth Talent Competition. The purpose of this youth talent competition was to " Encourage a new generation of Americana roots musicians by offering performance opportunities and exposure at the festival." Their talent was wonderful and inspiring. Audience members were well impressed!
People Power was the main ingredient for the Festival's success. However, second to this and as is said in the real estate profession, the most important factor is location, location, location! This year's event had the absolute perfect location, the Salt Lick Pavilion, adjacent to the famous Salt Lick Barbeque Restaurant and across the street ( the festival's official camp grounds) from the historic Confederate veterans reunion camp, Camp Ben McCulloch. The setting for the music festival was pastoral and idyllic. The upper plateau level had the parking, entrance, main vendor area, main stage(Hill Country Stage), children's sand playground, animal petting pen, Salt Lick barbeque kitchen, Bluebonnet Stage, and Armadillo Stage. On the gently sloping lush, grassy hillside below the Bluebonnet Stage was the Discovery Stage and food vendor area located among the tall shade trees with beautiful Onion Creek running nearby with its cascading waterfall. John Denver could have been singing about this place in his song, Country Roads, with the exception that this place is located in the heart of Texas! For music, there was an outstanding lineup of musical artists representing a wide array of talent.
Onion Creek View
I arrived around 11 A.M. on Saturday. From South Austin, one takes Farm Road 1826 for about 11 miles to get to the festival location. FM 1826 is a smooth, well maintained two lane road leading to the music area. Navigating the roads at night coming back to Austin is very easy as the road striping is well painted to allow for easy navigation. Another safety feature the festival provided for those leaving the parking area in the evening hours was the roadside flashing light array that warned passing motorist that an event was taking place and to drive carefully.
After getting my ticket/wristband at the ticket area, I walked through the nearby entrance and decided to make a circle to my right and casually tour the whole area first to get a feel for the festival grounds and then focus in on the various music talent. As I was walking to the Armadillo Stage, I noticed a bus load of festival goers getting off near a windmill and the petting pen. This was the shuttle transportation that festival provided those camped at Camp Ben McCulloch. On the Armadillo Stag were Kevin Willette on mandolin, Cara Cooke on harmonica, and Mary Hattersley on violin. Cara Cooke was presenting a workshop on bluegrass harmonica. Audience members were asking questions and Cara and Mary were offering suggestions on how to get youngster interested in music at an early age. Directly in front of the Armadillo Stage was a children's petting pen which held a cute armadillo and a very large tortoise. Volunteers inside the pen would pick the animals up to let the interested children inspect and pet these lovable Texas critters.
|Continuing on my counter clockwise festival circuit found me at the children's entertainment area. Stilt walking, face painting, an air bounce dome, giant slide and rock climbing wall were all available for the kids enjoyment. Down the shaded grassy hill was located the Discovery stage. At this time the Old Settler's Music Festival Youth Talent Competition was underway. Dan Wright, Seth & Hunter Wray were on stage giving the audience a demonstration of their youthful guitar and fiddle skills. Later on in the day, I caught violin instructor, Mary Hattersley, and her wonderful violin students, the Blazing Bows. The Blazing Bows had 30 plus violin players of all ages on stage. Their music was marvelous! It is a real treat to hear this many violins playing at once. The Blazing Bows could play a mean "Cotton Eye Joe!" Mary Hattersley has got to be very proud of her students!|
|In front of the Discovery Stage was the most beautiful area of the Salt Lick Pavilion. It is the river bottom area along Onion Creek. The ample shade from the tall overhead trees, the lush soft green grass, the gentle hillside, the kids wading and playing in the water above and below the large cascading waterfall on Onion Creek, all made this the most charming Texas Hill Country area of the festival. To me, this area of natural beauty gave the festival its unique flavor. Even if the festival had none of its wide array of musical talent and food, it would still be worth visiting just because of the natural splendor of Mother Nature, Texas style! People were sitting in the grass with friends and family. Little children were running around having a good time. Musicians would gather to pick and sing their favorite tunes. Large hula hoops were placed throughout the festival grounds where people could try their hand at gyrating to and fro to see if they could entice these large plastic rings to rotate around their torso.|
|Just upstream from the waterfall was a wide variety of food vendor stands. Festivarians could enjoy nourishment ranging from stir fry, Cajun dishes,Mexican entrees, funnel cakes, kettle korn, lemonade to rootbeer. A short distance up the hill next to the Bluebonnet Stage was the Salt Lick food pavilion where one could try out some of their Texas famous barbeque.|
Many of these food vendors will return to festival
year after year. Three years ago I met Chris and Joy Zemer of Zemer's Homemade Rootbeer. Their business was established
in 1930 by Chris's grandfather. Even today, their homemade rootbeer is truly "homemade" from the oil
of roots from their own sassafras trees. Joy and her helpers were at the festival providing their quality refreshments
for the crowd. On a sad note, Chris fractured his spine in an auto accident this past April 1. He is in a back
brace going about the business of recovering. I am sure the Zemer's would appreciate any good thoughts and prayers
going their way for Chris's recovery challenge. I missed seeing Chris this year, but Joy was a real pleasure to
visit with again and catch up on their adventures this past year.
Moving to the hilltop area was the Bluebonnet Stage enclosed in an open air covered pavilion. The roof with its ceiling fans and open air sides provided shade and coolness to enjoy the wide variety of musical talent. There is a possibility of the four festival entertainment stages to have musical talent simultaneously performing at one time; therefore, it is impossible to see it all. So, pull out the informative festival program and pick and choose which entertainment or workshop you wish to attend and go to the appropriate stage at the appointed time. Generally, the starting times for the various entertainment are staggered throughout the hour at the different stages. It is possible to catch parts of two or three acts within a one hour period by moving between the stages, or just stay put and enjoy whatever talent is performing at the stage you are at.
Leaving the Bluebonnet Stage and heading towards the main stage, the Hill Country Stage, one will find the main vendor area. All types of goods and services can be found in this area. Dresses, musical instruments including guitars and didgeridoos, African style drums, Peruvian flutes, CDs of the festival performers, bottled water and massages were all available. To one side of the vendor area was a large sand playground area that many of the young children were entertaining themselves with. Off to the right side of the Hill Country Stage was a very unique festival feature, a area of porta-potties for women's use only. This, I am sure, is a nice touch especially appreciated by the festival ladies. There were plenty of porta-potties throughout the festival grounds. I am sure this feature came about from the feedback survey forms collected at each years event in order to improve each year's event according to the wishes of the festival customer. About the only thing I can think of that would be nice to have would be to have some hand washing stations at various locations on the festival grounds.
|The Hill Country Stage was elevated about five and a half feet off the ground and had a large semi-dome canopy to provide shade for the performers. There was no barrier in front of the stage which allowed people to sit where they wanted, stand where they wanted, dance where they wanted and to photograph the live talent. This no stage barrier, from a photography point of view, is something I really enjoyed this year. No special passes required to get right up to the stage edge. Even though the master of ceremonies politely suggested for the dancers to dance to the sides so all could see, the stage front became alive with dancing, singing, and swaying as things began to get rocking in the evening hours. This elevated stage did help those seated further back see the stage without having to stand up. The crowds were well mannered and fun loving, so there was little danger of anyone being injured. Throughout the festival, law enforcement officers were casually walking the grounds to insure all had a safe time.||
As usual, the festival's talent selection committee did an excellent job of providing a first class talent line up for this year's festival. All of the performers did an outstanding job of entertaining the audience. From a one man band point of view, Monte Montgomery has to take the prize. It is incredible how much guitar picking can come from one person's hands. He seemed to put a complete guitar dictionary of picking techniques into one performance. Even from down on the banks of Onion Creek, one could hear the cheers and wild enthusiasm coming from the audience of the Bluebonnet stage. He was a truly impressive performer!
Peter Rowan and Friends performed at the Bluebonnet
stage Saturday afternoon. Peter definitely has a large groupie following for his style of music which is extremely
versatile. The fans sat close together in order to get as close as possible to their musical hero. Peter was backed
up by Billy Bright on mandolin, Bryn Bright on upright bass, and Cindy Cashdollar on dobro. It is hard to imagine
how this quality music talent could get any better. Come the evening hours, Peter was back on stage at the main
Hill Country stage. If you want to see a crowd get to dancing and having a good time, just let Peter play a little
reggaebilly along with his folk rock and the crowd goes wild! His songs, Land of the Navajo, The Free Mexican Airforce, Panama Red, and Midnite Moonlight will work the crowd up into a frenzy every time!
Speaking of dance frenzy, Leftover Salmon cranked the volume up Saturday night and got the audience hopping, jumping and singing. The pure joy of music, dance, and just being alive came across in the afternoon at the Bluebonnet Stage too. As Special Consensus was playing, a little girl and her brother were dancing and having a good time off to the side of the stage. Eventually, they were joined by two other small boys and their mothers. One little tike could barely walk, but he lifted his tiny feet to the beat of the music. He knew that life could not get much better than a day spent at The Old Settler's Music Festival in Driftwood, Texas. And so it was!
Copyright - 2002 - Paul Johnston