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After numerous false starts and postponements due to the pandemic, the 34th Annual Old Settler’s Festival finally got underway on Thursday, October 21st for early revelers in the campground, and on the main stages on Friday the 22nd, with country punk queen, life coach, and overall general badass Sarah Shook and her band the Disarmers starting off the festivities on the festival’s main Black’s BBQ stage.
Sarah Shook had the unenviable task of performing her dark songs more appropriate for a gloomy honky tonk in the early afternoon, but she nailed it anyway in front of an appreciative audience, including numerous folks who’d kicked off work early or called in sick so they sing along to every word to her songs.
Sarah Shook’s magnificent aptitude for fetching melodies brought to stories from the failing side of life satisfies a deep appetite for music we never knew we had until she came along, and leaves one memorably more fulfilled than your ordinary music experience to the point of being deemed essential.
Along with performing some of her most well-recognized songs such as “Good As Gold” and “New Ways to Fail,” she also tested out a couple of new songs, including one perhaps called “Poison” with a bit of a rockabilly vibe to it that will likely be on her new album to be released on Thirty Tigers in 2022.
Just as Sarah Shook was taking the stage, the news broke that her previous label Bloodshot Records had been sold to Exceleration Music, hopefully making sure that the previous two records from Sarah Shook and the Disarmers are promoted well and kept in stock for the foreseeable future.
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Headlining the evening was the British born Jade Bird, who recently has made her nest in nearby Austin. Having to take the stage after the 5-piece woman power of Della Mae as just a solo acoustic act, and while also suffering from a (non-Covid) respiratory infection, young Jade Bird had a daunting task ahead of her.
It still remains a bit perplexing why the mostly acoustic pop bar chord stylings of Jade Bird have been slotted into the “Americana” realm to the point where they also interface with country. It’s not that the sheer talent isn’t obvious, or that the songs aren’t of a superior quality. It’s just that sonically, it’s a strange fit.
But simply being in the audience of Jade Bird—who was forced to play a quarter hundred songs to fulfill her 75-minute headlining set—it’s near impossible to not be incredibly endeared with her. The songs are the enviable combination of easy melody and infectious pentameter, while still remaining surprisingly earthy and involved. Meanwhile, her vocal control and range are incredible. Simply, put, she’s a powerhouse.
And unlike so many of the more dour Americana acts, Jade Bird actually has personality. Her quick smile, nervous laughs, and British style of folksy demeanor reminded one of Dolly Parton—just contagiously joyous, even if many of the songs are of youthful indecision and soured love. All the more perfect that Jade Bird concluded with a rendition on Dolly’s “Do I Ever Cross Your Mind?”
Where some of her early songs feel a little “shouty” (for lack of a better word), Jade Bird’s new stuff is much more balanced. When she sang the more understated title track to her recent Dave Cobb-produced album Different Kinds of Light, she hushed the Old Settler’s field, and completely won them over according to the applause afterwards.
Sonically, Jade Bird still may not fit perfectly into the “Americana” world, even with its continuously expanding and mutable borders. But with her talent, her songwriting, and her overall presence, Americana and Austin, TX should be more than happy to have her.
Stay tuned to Saving Country Music for a full recap of Old Settler’s Fest.