Grand music, and big bubbles, drift on the air as Old Settler’s welcomes new digs

The first big day of Old Settler’s Music Festival at its new site near Lockhart promised lots of good music from the likes of Calexico, Billy Strings, Jamestown Revival, Donna the Buffalo and many more. Under a welcome layer of clouds with mid-60s temperatures and a cool breeze, it delivered all that. Plus, bubbles.

Kids chase after bubbles at the Old Settler’s Music Festival on Friday, April 20, 2018. Peter Blackstock/American-Statesman

The fest, now held in the rural community of Tilmon about 20 minutes southeast of Lockhart, officially kicked off Thursday evening with a concert on the campground stage, as hundreds of weekend-long festgoers already had set up tents and RVs across the spacious new site’s four camping areas. But Friday was the first opportunity to hear music on the main Original Black’s BBQ Stage and the adjacent, smaller Bluebonnet Stage.

Also of note at the Bluebonnet Stage was a bubble-making expert who periodically unleashed torrents of bubbles across the field. This was sheer ecstasy for the younger attendees in the crowd, who chased them down with laughter and broad smiles.

Teenage country singer Frankie Leonie, winner of last year’s OSMF Youth Talent Competition during its final year in Driftwood, got the honor of christening the big stage and delivered magnificently. She played her own songs, including one beautiful number recently recorded with Dallas group the Texas Gentlemen, alongside tasteful covers of tunes by Townes Van Zandt, Waylon Jennings and Nikki Lane. Leonie set the tone for a full afternoon and evening of music that never disappointed and frequently exceeded expectations.

Instrumental fans got some great extended excursions from the Jeff Austin Band and Ireland’s We Banjo 3, “the oddly named quartet” as they put it: Their lineup includes mandolin, banjo, fiddle and acoustic guitar. Featuring two sets of brothers, the group joked about the cool weather: “You see we brought the lovely Irish summer with us. This is the warmest day in the history of Ireland.”

Sundown found Austin’s own Jamestown Revival holding forth on the main stage, mixing old favorites from their pop-leaning indie-Americana records with not-yet-released material. “It’s good to be playing at home; got the family out,” said Jonathan Clay as he and Zach Chance brought their voices together in harmony on a new tune titled “Operator.”

Zack Chance, left, and Jonathan Clay of Jamestown Revival at Old Settler’s Music Festival on Friday, April 20, 2018. Peter Blackstock/American-Statesman

The best acts went on just after dark. Skies cleared briefly, revealing a sweet spread of in-the-country stars and a quarter-moon that hung over the stage as Arizona’s magnificent Calexico began an hourlong set. Grown from the bare-bones duo of singer-guitarist Joey Burns and drummer John Convertino, the group is now seven strong and features members from Germany and Spain, though their music gets its greatest influence from the Mexican border. Trumpets and accordions spice up the mix of their sound that’s sometimes border dance music, sometimes indie guitar rock, but always enchanting.

Calexico at the Old Settler’s Music Festival on Friday, April 20, 2018. Peter Blackstock/American-Statesman

Around the corner on the Bluebonnet Stage, teenage upstart Billy Strings led a four-piece band featuring acoustic guitar, mandolin, banjo and upright bass. All of them just oozed with talent and vibrant style; they played their instruments with a live-wire fervor, perhaps picking up some youthful punk-rock energy but sounding nothing at all like punk in the process. Rather, they simply sounded full of life and passion, and Strings’ tenor voice was strong enough to echo the great Tim O’Brien when the band covered Bob Dylan’s “Senor (Tales of Yankee Power).”

Still to come for those staying till midnight were jam-band Greensky Bluegrass and Austin’s soulful Tomar & the FCs, plus a wee-hours session on the new “Camp Shhhtimes” mini-stage with another Billy Strings performance and a couple of talented locals. Saturday’s forecast calls for rain, but that didn’t seem to dampen the spirits of organizers and attendees, who noted they’d been through many rainy Old Settler’s days before.

The Saturday lineup offers Sarah Jarosz’s new trio I’m With Her (featuring Sara Watkins and Aoife O’Donovan), California Honeydrops, Darlingside, the War and Treaty, Bob Schneider and many more. Sunday afternoon’s finale on the Campground Stage includes Ray Wylie Hubbard, Steve Poltz and others.

READ MORE: Our full preview of the 2018 Old Settler’s Music Festival

Sunset at the Old Settler’s Music Festival on Friday, April 20, 2018. Peter Blackstock/American-Statesman