Top American Musicians Entertain Hill Country Crowds
by Carl Burnham
From bluegrass to country, from gospel to a little reggae, Old Settler's Music Festival is a fun-filled four day event that brings music lovers yearly to the small community of Driftwood just outside of Austin. Bands entertained on three main stages near Onion Creek, as intoxicating smells of barbeque and gyros beckoned fans to the food booths, and also window shop for clothes, cowboy hats, or jewelry. We met Lonnie Joe Howell, from Levelland, Texas, hard at work giving demonstrations of guitars, mandolins, banjos, and harmonicas for sale, including how-to videos and books. With all the talented musicians making what they do so well look so easy throughout their performances, I'm sure he was busy with potential buyers all day.
The lineup for this year included many musicians and top name acts showcasing their talents. For the Saturday evening show, we first saw Charlie Musselwhite take to the Hill Country stage. Musselwhite plays the blues with his harmonica with a passion like none other. Born in Kosciusko, Mississippi, his parents then moved to Memphis, where he grew up surrounded by the blues. In going after good jobs up North, he would later move to Chicago where fate would have him get discovered by Muddy Waters (another Mississippi native) one night in a bar when the waitress told Muddy that he needed to hear him play. And play he did. His first album came out in 1966, titled "Stand Back!" Today, Musselwhite has a bevy of over 30 albums, with his most recent album ("Delta Hardware") including the hit "Black Water" which is an indictment of the Hurricane Katrina mess. He has been involved in several benefits for the New Orleans area.
As a 12 year old mandolin playing extraordinaire from
Philadelphia, Mississippi named after Marty Robbins, Marty Stuart caught the
eye of Lester Flatt. Flatt took him under his wing to tour across the country.
He would later join Johnny Cash's band, perfecting his singing talents,
mandolin, and guitar playing. His musical realm has expanded from country and
bluegrass to also include the blues, and gospel.
Marty and his band the Fabulous Superlatives (Kenny Vaughan, Harry Stinson, and Brian Glenn) belted out great songs like "Country Boy Rock and Roll" throughout the evening, with riveting guitar and mandolin playing, as the full moon shown overhead. Stuart was quite impressive with his singing and playing, using his trademark mandolin which has a cross carved on by Johnny Cash, with his signature and other celebrities. Each member of his band are exceptional talents, and they fit like a glove when playing onstage, whether playing bluegrass, country, or gospel.
Some of their songs reminded me of Rodney Crowell and Bela Fleck performances here from years' past, while others captured the essence of early country music, such as the classic "Rock Island Line." "Cousin Kenny" Vaughan was a crowd pleaser too with white hat and studded outfit, doing an exceptional job playing guitar and singing solo for "Country Music's Got A Hold On Me". The crowd was clearly moved by several touching gospel songs, with band members singing backup vocals and sounding smooth as honey.
During the performance, Stuart recounted stories that he had heard over the years, interspersed with his music. Before he sang the song, "Blue and Lonesome," he told about a conversation Hank Williams was having with Bill Monroe one night in a Nashville dressing room in 1950 about his wife troubles. They decided to write a song, and within five minutes came up with "Blue and Lonesome" together. One of Stuart's duets with Merle Haggard, "Farmer's Blues," is a song especially close to Stuart given his grandparents (as well as mine) were poor dirt farmers, and is written by his wife and country star, Connie Smith. Besides country music, Stuart is known for having the world's largest collection of country music memorabilia, has written several books highlighting his photography, and has been president of the Country Music Hall of Fame for many years & on the Museum’s board of directors.
Through the years, Marty Stuart has held to the country music he loves and his essential Southern roots. As he left the stage, I yelled out to him, "I'm a Mississippi boy too." He came right over, shaking my hand, and said "Where 'bouts? We're probably cousins!"
View our Old Settler's Music Festival 2007 Feature.
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