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Old Settler’s Fest in central Texas has a lot going for it that other country and roots festivals just can’t rival. 34 years of history make for a lineage and a legacy that newer festivals just don’t have, no matter how much big money they may have behind them. For some friends and family, Old Settler’s is a long-standing tradition, and they go no matter what the lineup is, and the on-site camping facilitates intimate performances and late night jams across the four days of the gathering.
Old Settler’s has a huge, 145-acre permanent site they moved onto a few years ago, located within easy driving distance of both Austin and San Antonio, yet is an experience worth traveling out of state for. This gives the fest a greater foundation to grow from than other events. It’s an unusually kid friendly atmosphere, so you don’t have to pawn the kiddos off on the in-laws, they can come along if they wish. They also have a world-class youth competition that once helped give birth to the career of Sarah Jarosz.
It’s been a tough few years for Old Settler’s though. A dispute with their previous site owners resulted in a big public lawsuit, and an abrupt move to their new location before they were ready. Then of course, right as they were ready to take Old Settler’s to the next level, COVID hit, which resulted in multiple postponements. Due to tight budgets for the nonprofit organization, they had to let go their long time Executive Director Jean Spivey. There’s also been some turnover in their long time volunteer corps that help keep the festival going. As great as Old Settler’s is, it’s like they’ve been snake bit over the last few years. And with other big events happening on the same weekend—including Austin’s big F1 race—it was rough getting folks to pay attention to a grassroots country roots festival.
But pound for pound, the 2021 Old Settler’s Fest lineup conveyed as much entertainment value as any other event you’d find out there. Sure, maybe the 2021 lineup didn’t have the big flashy names like the 2019 fest when they had Jason Isbell and Brandi Carlile headlining. But they made up for it with smart and studious curation that resulted in a stellar lineup and experience for 2021 Old Settler’s goers.
You had North Mississippi hill country blues revivalist Cedric Burnside, who is right up there with Billy Strings and Mike and the Moonpies is the most entertaining live music act in all country and roots music at the moment. You had the Hogslop String Band that anyone who’s seen them live will attest bring the party live like no other.
You had the future of independent country represented well in Sarah Shook and the Disarmers, the underrated and criminally-overlooked Logan Ledger, Kentucky sweetheart Kelsey Waldon, and Sierra Ferrell, who is one of the fastest-rising entertainers in Americana.
You had legacy acts like the groundbreaking and Grammy-nominated Della Mae, the Father of Newgrass himself Sam Bush, the Po’ Ramblin Boys who are one of the best true bluegrass bands who still know how to keep it fresh and fun, and The Travelin’ McCourys who love to stretch their legs out and explore the outer reaches of bluegrass just as much as they genre’s younger acts.
Apologies to the campground performers and others not mentioned below, but Saving Country Music could only pull itself away from officially business for Friday and Saturday of the fest. But once again, Old Settler’s Fest was a great opportunity to enjoy some of the best country and roots musicians around, and discover some new ones worthy of a wider audience.
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