When world-renown mandolin, banjo, and fiddle player Sarah Jarosz first began learning music at the age of 10, it was an annual music gathering just up the road from her hometown of Wimberley, TX that helped nurture her passion with their youth programs and competitions. Before she had even finished high school, Sarah Jarosz was signed to Sugar Hill Records, and eventually was accepted into the New England Conservatory of Music due to the incredible promise and skill she showed as a youth performer.
That music gathering was called the Old Settler’s Music Festival, and it celebrated its 31st year this past weekend (4-19 thru 4-22). Since performing at the festival throughout her career development, Sarah Jarosz has now become a 2-time Grammy-winning performer, singer, and songwriter who is celebrated throughout the bluegrass, folk, and Americana music industry. Her career has fared so well, when she appeared on the Old Settler’s stage in one of Saturday’s headliner slots, it wasn’t with her band, it was in the supergroup I’m With Her with two other awarded and respected musicians and songwriters, Sara Watkins and Aoife O’Donovan.
“This festival feels like where it all began for me,” says Jarosz. “I remember all the way back to 2001 I believe. I was 9-years-old. I got to see bands like Nickel Creek, John Hartford, and Tim O’Brien, and Darrell Scott, and that was the first time I met so many of those musical heroes who I am so proud now to call many of them friends. I think that says a lot about the festival. Just the community aspect behind the festival has always been emphasized. It’s a really special place.”
Sarah Jarosz’s presence on the Old Settler’s Festival lineup underscores the importance of the festival as a roots music institution, which after many years in the same spot, just moved in 2018 to a permanent site just south of Lockhart, TX. Festival organizers were hoping to have an extra year before relocating to the new spot to do improvements and build infrastructure, but a dispute with some previous partners resulted in a legal battle, with a judge granting an injunction against the rival group that was looking to throw their own festival on the same weekend with the express purpose of undercutting Old Settler’s, and splitting volunteers, performers, vendors, and fans among the two events.
But this would not keep Old Settler’s Fest from presenting a well-organized and exciting festival in 2018, which included a stout lineup that went beyond the festival’s folk and bluegrass founding to include Texas country acts such as Wade Bowen, songwriters like Will Hoge and Sean McConnell, traditional revivalists like Colter Wall, rock ‘n roller and returning performer JD McPherson, along with the bluegrass greats such as Balsam Range, and up-and-coming maestro, Billy Strings.
A blustery rain squall that blew through the site Saturday afternoon made for a wet affair. But as skies cleared, day trippers and campers emerged from their ponchos to party well into the night. On the new, permanent site, the Old Settler’s Fest included ample space for multiple campgrounds, including entertainment on a campground stage that went well into the wee hours of the night, along with plenty of room for growth of the fest in the coming years.
The Old Settler’s Music Festival is not just an enjoyable time for the patrons who frequent the fest each year. With its youth programs, and the opportunities it provides for up-and-coming acts along with established names, it’s an important part of the roots music ecosystem that should be supported so the next generation of performers like Sarah Jarosz can entertain, and keep the legacy of roots music alive for years to come.
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