Old Settler's Music Festival 2023: A Diverse Celebration of Folk, Roots & Americana - Sound Check

 Written by Davis Mendoza Darusman and Peter Hatchell

Photo - Yola: Live by Peter Hatchell

This article about Old Settler's Music Festival 2023 is the first edition of Housician Magazine's new signature two-part article series, Sound Check/Vibe Check, going in-depth about both the music and the experiences surrounding local music happenings. Stay tuned for the second part, Vibe Check!

Despite the rain that descended upon the Old Settler's Music Festival, nothing could dampen the spirits of music enthusiasts who flocked to the event for a weekend of soul-stirring performances, engaging workshops, delicious food, vibrant vendors, and a captivating campground culture. The festival featured incredible headlining performances by the soulful six-time Grammy Award-nominee, Yola, and the 2023 Best Bluegrass Album Grammy Award-winner, Molly Tuttle (& Golden Highway), as well as workshops and performances from the legendary Tommy Emmanuel and up-and-comer Jack Barksdale, among others. Attendees enjoyed delicious food from Off the Griddle and Oh My Pizza Pie and more, and vendors offered brilliantly designed and colorful clothes. 

Let's dive into the highlights of this unforgettable musical extravaganza!
The festival kicked off with a heartwarming event—a wedding between two volunteers who first met at the festival five years ago. Officiated by their former team lead, the ceremony was a beautiful testament to the power of music, love, and the Old Settler's community. I had the emotional opportunity to speak with the bride's sister, who expressed expressed her utmost joy, sharing how she knew her sister Katie was the perfect match for Grant as soon as they met. The sentiment was echoed by Grant's mother, reaffirming the deep connection forged through the festival's magical atmosphere.

Photo by Davis Mendoza Darusman 
Following the wedding, VIP attendees were treated to a delectable delight—the "Platinum Kick-Off Happy Hour with Ley Line." This turned out to be a musical showcase by Her Mana, a spin-off band formed by two members of the all-female supergroup, Ley Line. With Latin-rooted musical treats that were as irresistible as the chocolate offerings from Joaihu Chocolate, the band transported the audience on a melodic journey. Paired with the exquisite Mezcal Origen Raiz, this performance left attendees excited for the weekend of music ahead of them.

    Photo by Davis Mendoza Darusman 
The festival continued with the lively Tiger Alley, where the band entertained the crowd with fun song selections, including a cheeky ballod about a cheap ex. Their charismatic performance captivated the audience, and one band member playfully advised, "If you don't want a song about you, don't date a songwriter!" The momentum carried forward with Buffalo Nichols from Houston, whose powerful bass and thundering electric guitar resonated throughout the campgrounds, drawing me back from my tent to the stage. Returning for an encore, Buffalo Nichols playfully joked about being mistakenly associated with folk music before wowing the crowd with a folk cover of "When The Levee Breaks." Texas-native Bee Taylor then took the stage, offering a fun and upbeat performance that showcased her transition from Nashville to her home state. Unfortunately, her set was cut short due to inclement weather, but she made a triumphant return later, delivering a powerful second half of her set. Jomo & The Possum Posse and Flounder Without Eyes rounded out the evening with their captivating performances.
The next day commenced with a spiritual and invigorating yoga session led by Thrive Yoga. Another standout event was Bluegrass Jamming 101, where participants learned how to play with strangers, establishing strong melodies, rhythms, and harmonies. The Brothers Comatose, Elephant Revival (who invited the incredible musicians from Ley Line to jam with them), Shinyribs, and The Wood Brothers delivered captivating sets that kept the crowd enthralled. The Wood Brothers, in particular, left a lasting impact with their uplifting messages and a reminder that "It's okay to be a little broken." Their magical performance was worth staying up past midnight, as attested by a camp neighbor who was initially hesitant to "stay up stay up so late" but left thoroughly enchanted.

Saturday brought forth the Youth Talent Competition, showcasing the incredible skills of young musicians and appropriately leading to a performance by one of the most promising young talents in country music, Jack Barksdale. As soon he took the stage, he demonstrated wisdom and knowledge of the blues well beyond his age. Donning his Texas flag boots, Jack not only delivered a mesmerizing performance but also hosted an educational workshop discussing the difference between Delta and Piedmont blues. Despite his seemingly shy demeanor, Jack proved himself to be a young titan in country music. 

Photo by Davis Mendoza Darusman

Following Jack's set, the audience was treated to a performance by Charlotte Hills, the winner of the 2022 Youth Talent Competition. Just before John R. Miller took the stage with his soulful music, the legendary Certified Guitar Player, Tommy Emmanuel, gave a workshop for the ages. Tommy discussed various aspects of his craft, from his decision-making process regarding picking styles to how he prepares for concerts. He emphasized the importance of staying present and breathing before each show, a practice he referred to as "psyching down." Tommy even shared the unique sound of his calluses, showcasing his deep connection with the instrument. His workshop was truly a masterclass that left attendees inspired and in awe of his expertise. Tommy Emmanuel continued to mesmerize the crowd with his incredible performance on the Campgrounds Stage. During his rendition of "Amazing Grace," the emotional power of the music moved Angela, an audience member, who had to step out as the song reminded her of the recent loss of her father. It was a testament to the profound impact music can have on our emotions and the healing power it carries. 

Photo by Davis Mendoza Darusman

After Tommy's performance, the all-female band Big Richard took the stage, followed by the dynamic duo Shovels & Rope. The audience was then treated to the incredible talent of Molly Tuttle & Golden Highway, the Best New Artist Grammy Award-nominee for 2023. Molly and Kyle Tuttle, who coincidentally shared the same last name, shared a story that left the audience wondering if it was serious or a joke — they claimed to have gotten married at the Vegas Bluegrass festival the prior weekend. Their performance was filled with great chemistry and plenty of solos to showcase the talents of each artist. They even delighted the crowd with an incredible cover of "White Rabbit" by Jefferson Airplane, which elicited cheers and raised hands when Molly sang the iconic line about mushrooms. Molly Tuttle also took the opportunity to acknowledge the female diversity on the festival's lineup, a powerful statement that highlighted the importance of representation in the music industry. 

Photo by Davis Mendoza Darusman

Her acknowledgement of this wonderful female musician representation led to the highly anticipated headliner, Yola. Yola delivered a captivating performance, engaging the audience and sharing a new song that they were the first to hear. Her rendition of "Like a Photograph," a song she had only sung lived once before, moved the crowd with its soulful and inspiring vibes. Yola asked the audience if they wanted her to perform the song more frequently, to which the resounding response was a definite yes. Her performance was a testament to her exceptional talent and left everyone eagerly anticipating her future work. 

From staff writer, Peter Hatchell:
When I arrived in the press pit at the Old Settler’s Folk Festival for Yola, Saturday night’s headliner, I was not sure what to expect. The ensuing hour and a half set was dynamite. It had everything to offer that one could possibly want from a live music set. Yola is a charismatic frontwoman, she wields a tremendous set of pipes, and is backed by an extremely talented team of musicians. Her set ranged from deep, emotional ballads, to rocking tunes, to cutting political commentary in the form of the anti-Theresa May anthem “Diamond Studded Shoes” (during which chants of “down with the monarchy!” could be heard from the crowd. 
It was easily the highlight of the weekend for me, and I can’t wait to see Yola again next time she is in town.

Later that night, on the Late Night Stage, Houston-based Supper Party took the audience on a musical journey with their incredibly talented lead guitar player and serene female lead vocals. Their banter and stage presence added to the overall atmosphere of enjoyment and camaraderie. 

Photo by Davis Mendoza Darusman

The following morning, despite another stormy night, the festival continued with a much-anticipated performance by the amazing Ley Line, a local all-female supergroup of talented musicians who had delighted the audience throughout the weekend. Their set was a showcase of their exceptional skills, leaving a lasting impression on everyone fortunate enough to witness their performance. With their unique blend of genres and soulful melodies, Ley Line's music transported listeners to a world of pure sonic bliss. 

Photo by Davis Mendoza Darusman

As the morning progressed, the festival continued to deliver exceptional talent. Matt the Electrician, known for his engaging stage presence and electrifying performances, took the stage and energized the crowd with his infectious energy. The audience couldn't help but sing along and dance to his lively tunes, creating an atmosphere of pure joy and camaraderie. Melissa Carper, a skilled singer-songwriter, enchanted the audience with her soulful voice and heartfelt lyrics. Her intimate and introspective songs resonated deeply with listeners, creating a profound connection between artist and audience. Carper's performance was a beautiful moment of vulnerability and musical authenticity. Armchair Boogie, known for their high-energy bluegrass and Americana-infused sound, took the stage and ignited a fire within the crowd. Their infectious rhythms and skilled musicianship had everyone tapping their feet and clapping their hands. Armchair Boogie's spirited performance added a vibrant energy to the festival, ensuring that the momentum continued to build as the day progressed. 

As the festival neared its conclusion, Shinyribs presented a heartfelt tribute to Austin's "National Band," The Gourds. The audience was taken on a nostalgic journey through the band's beloved repertoire, with Shinyribs paying homage to the spirit and essence of The Gourds' music. The tribute was filled with heartfelt renditions of their most beloved songs, reminding everyone of the profound impact The Gourds had on the Austin music scene. To wrap up the festival on a high note, Shinyribs invited the audience to participate in a fun and interactive conga line. The joyous procession weaved through the crowd, creating a sense of unity and celebration. The conga line served as a fitting finale to the Old Settler's Music Festival, leaving everyone with an enduring memory of the vibrant and inclusive community that had been fostered throughout the weekend. 

Photo by Crystal Glaze Photography

Reflecting on the festival as a whole, it was an absolute blast for attendees. The event offered something for everyone, catering to a wide range of musical tastes and preferences. From the mesmerizing performances of Ley Line to the infectious energy of Yola, every act left an indelible mark on the hearts of the audience. Moreover, the festival's location in beautiful rural Texas added to the overall experience. The picturesque surroundings provided a serene and idyllic backdrop for the performances, allowing attendees to immerse themselves in both the music and the natural beauty of the area. 

As the festival came to a close, anticipation for next year's Old Settler's Music Festival began to build. The event had succeeded in creating a vibrant and inclusive community, where music lovers from all walks of life could come together to celebrate the power of live music. The memories forged at the festival would undoubtedly stay with attendees until they returned once again to revel in the magic of Old Settler's Music Festival.

Photo by Davis Mendoza Darusman
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