Old Settler’s Music Festival: 18 April 2009 - Austin, TX

Dave Alvin and the Guilty Women

From bluegrass to the blues, the Old Settler’s Music Festival has been serving up Americana-style roots music since 1987.

Old Settler’s Music Festival

City: Austin, TX
Venue: Salt Lick Pavilion and Camp Ben McCulloch
Date: 2009-04-18

It was a fine Saturday night in the Texas Hill Country for the peak of this year’s Old Settler’s Music Festival, an annual event since 1987. The festival technically takes place in Round Rock, about 20 miles west of Austin, but the event is full of that classic Austin flavor and is therefore advertised as such.

Most folks look like they’ve been camping for a couple days since the beginning of the fest on Thursday, but there was still plenty of great music to take in even if you had just arrived for Saturday evening’s lineup. The grounds are green and feature lots of trees, so the air smells fresh and good vibes abound.

The set-up features a typically kind selection of microbrews, local foods, and vending, all of which gives off a vibe somewhat similar to that of Northern California’s High Sierra Music Festival. This must be what has drawn San Francisco’s New Monsoon back for their fourth year at the fest, but that’s getting ahead of ourselves, for they are scheduled as the evening’s grand finale.

First up at 6:45 pm is Dave Alvin & the Guilty Women, and a surprise treat they are. The bluesman and former Blaster is featuring his new project here, backed by an ultra-talented all-female backing band whose instrumental skills and vocal harmonies fit the warm Hill Country evening like the proverbial glove. Featuring Cindy Cashdollar and Nina Gerber on guitar, vocalist Christy McWilson, violinists Laurie Lewis and Amy Farris, bassist Sarah Brown and drummer Lisa Pankratz, the only thing these women are guilty of is sounding great.

Alvin leads the ladies through a 75-minute set that mixes country Americana with blues and rock for a tasty stew that hits all kinds of notes. Between the pedal steel guitar, the violins, and soulful backing vocals, the band delivers a rich sound that would seem to promise a stellar debut album for the lineup.

By the time the set ends, Ray Wylie Hubbard is already well into his set on the second stage and going strong. An elder statesman of the Texas music scene, some younger artists have come to calling him “Wylie Lama” and the reason for this becomes apparent as Hubbard delivers bits of his bluesy wisdom between songs. Hubbard plays an old Dobro for much of the set and his bluesy slide licks hit a chord with old and young alike, as kids hula-hoop both toward the back and on the side.

Hubbard tells us that the guitar originally belonged to his grandfather, who didn’t play that well, explaining that he talked him into giving it to him while his grandfather was on his deathbed, which gets a chuckle. Hubbard then delivers a lively rendition of “Will the Circle Be Unbroken” that gets the crowd singing along, and speaks of how “the First Amendment is first” and says that musicians such as Ralph Stanley and Bill Monroe have killed more people with their insightful songs than Ice-T and 50 Cent. “John the Revelator” rocks the assembled, with some psychedelic lighting coming into play now that the sky has darkened.

Then it’s back to the main stage for the double-treat of The Travelin’ McCoury’s with The Lee Boys. Both bands had played their own sets earlier in the day, but the combination here of “bluegrass and sacred steel” makes for one of the most unique performances of the season. As the sons of bluegrass legend Del McCoury, mandolinist Ronnie McCoury and banjo player Rob McCoury deliver an old school throwback to another era. Florida’s Lee Boys have a classic vibe themselves, featuring pedal steel guitar many would find reminiscent of Robert Randolph.

There’s about 12 people onstage but the sound has that perfect balance of being tight, yet still loose. “What you say Ronnie?” asks rhythm guitarist Alvin Lee after a hot jam. “That’s some funky bluegrass, I didn’t know we had it in us,” responds Ronnie McCoury. The sound is dialed in just right, with the bluegrass instruments still shining through the mix amidst the blues power.

The Big Dipper and Arcturus shine bright above the stage as the ensemble launches into a massive rendition of Jimi Hendrix’ “Voodoo Child (Slight Return)”. Pedal steel maestro Roosevelt Collier (a nephew of the Lee Boys) shines here with his smoking licks recalling both Hendrix and the more recent work of Randolph and Ben Harper. But the mandolin and banjo solos captivate as well, making this one of the most unique versions of the classic song ever rendered. The crowd is enthralled as the band wraps up their 90-minute set.

Back over on the second stage, Marc Broussard’s rhythm & blues sound is wafting through the air. The singer-songwriter has a soulful style that recalls the gritty vocals of Ben Harper, which comes in handy when ending the set with a powerful take on Led Zeppelin’s “Whole Lotta Love”.

Most of the crowd gathers back at the main stage for headliner Robert Earl Keen, a honky tonk Texas troubadour with quite a following -- some fans say they only just arrived just to see Keen. The performance is also broadcast across the planet to Texas National Guard Troops in Iraq. They don’t have much to say during a brief pre-show chat and it’s obvious they sure wish they were back in the Lone Star State quaffing some brews and listening to the blues.

Keen’s sound clearly appeals to a large audience, but for the rock ‘n’ rollers on hand, the only place to be at 11 pm is back at the second stage for New Monsoon.

The jamrock quintet from San Francisco have slowly but surely built a steady following over the past few years with their eclectic blend of classic rock, psychedelia, world rhythms, and rich harmonies. The band clearly has a thing for Texas too, not only playing their fourth Old Settler’s Fest according to acoustic guitarist Bo Carper, but also having recorded their brand new double live CD during a Texas three-step through Austin, Dallas, and Houston last fall.

The funky “Greenhouse” is an early highlight, with guitarist Jeff Miller demonstrating his considerable chops. Able to channel influences from Jerry Garcia and Carlos Santana to Joe Perry and Warren Haynes into one smoking lick after another, Miller leaves no doubt that he’s one of the most underrated guitarists on the national scene.

Miller, Carper, and keyboardist Phil Ferlino form the band’s core, but newer members Marshall Harrell (bass) and Sean Hutchinson (drums) have clearly come into their own. They’ve only just made their recording debut with the band on the new live album, but the chemistry is as if they’d been here all along.

“Trust in Me” lifts the set higher with Miller and Carper teaming up for some soulful vocals about having to go it alone sometimes to overcome certain adversities on life’s winding road. It is tunes like this that help give New Monsoon a deeper subtext than many of their contemporaries in the jam scene.

Carper dazzles on banjo during “El Fuego”, as the band rages out on an older classic that fits in perfectly here under the Texas moon. The band is supposedly scheduled for only an hour, but they manage to skillfully jam out the set closer to 90 minutes. The crowd is still demanding more though, and management fortunately brings the group back for one more.

The encore features the newer “The Other Side” from the band’s last studio album. The bluesy syncopated rocker puts an appropriate cap on the evening with the band singing of “sitting on the ground so long in San Antone,” about 75 miles away. Miller’s wah-wah licks smolder on top of the psychedelic organ work from Ferlino, who than adds his own groovy solo, all held down by some tight snare and cymbal work from Hutchinson.

Thank goodness some California bands realize what a musical Mecca South Texas can be. Now if only more of the Bay Area’s finest would follow suit.

The year in song reflected the state of the world around us. Here are the 70 songs that spoke to us this year.

70. The Horrors - "Machine"

On their fifth album V, the Horrors expand on the bright, psychedelic territory they explored with Luminous, anchoring the ten new tracks with retro synths and guitar fuzz freakouts. "Machine" is the delicious outlier and the most vitriolic cut on the record, with Faris Badwan belting out accusations to the song's subject, who may even be us. The concept of alienation is nothing new, but here the Brits incorporate a beautiful metaphor of an insect trapped in amber as an illustration of the human caught within modernity. Whether our trappings are technological, psychological, or something else entirely makes the statement all the more chilling. - Tristan Kneschke

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The Best Dance Tracks of 2017

Photo: Murielle Victorine Scherre (Courtesy of Big Beat Press)

From the "shamanic techno" of Parisian duo Pouvoir Magique to Stockholm Noir's brilliant string of darkly foreboding, electro-licked singles, here are ten selections that represent some of the more intriguing dance offerings of 2017.

In June of 2016, prolific producer Diplo lambasted the world of DJ's in an interview with Billboard, stating that EDM was dying. Coincidentally enough, the article's contents went viral and made their way into Vice Media's electronic music and culture channel Thump, which closed its doors after four years this summer amid company-wide layoffs. Months earlier, electronic music giant SFX Entertainment filed bankruptcy and reemerged as Lifestyle, Inc., shunning the term "EDM".

So here we are at the end of 2017, and the internet is still a flurry with articles declaring that Electronic Dance Music is rotting from the inside out and DJ culture is dying on the vine, devoured by corporate greed. That might all well be the case, but electronic music isn't disappearing into the night without a fight as witnessed by the endless parade of emerging artists on the scene, the rise of North America's first Electro Parade in Montréal, and the inaugural Electronic Music Awards in Los Angeles this past September.

For every insipid, automaton disc jockey-producer, there are innovative minds like Anna Lunoe, Four Tet, and the Black Madonna, whose eclectic, infectious sets display impeccable taste, a wealth of knowledge, and boundless creativity. Over the past few years, many underground artists have been thrust into the mainstream spotlight and lost the je ne sais quoi that made them unique. Regardless, there will always be new musicians, producers, singers, and visionaries to replace them, those who bring something novel to the table or tip a hat to their predecessors in a way that steps beyond homage and exhilarates as it did decades before.

As electronic music continues to evolve and its endless sub-genres continue to expand, so do fickle tastes, and preferences become more and more subjective with a seemingly endless list of artists to sift through. With so much music to digest, its no wonder that many artists remain under the radar. This list hopes to remedy that injustice and celebrate tracks both indie and mainstream. From the "shamanic techno" of Parisian duo Pouvoir Magique to Stockholm Noir's brilliant string of darkly foreboding, electro-licked singles, here are ten selections that represent some of the more intriguing dance offerings of 2017.

10. Moullinex - “Work It Out (feat. Fritz Helder)”

Taken from Portuguese producer, DJ, and multi-instrumentalist Luis Clara Gomes' third album Hypersex, "Work It Out" like all of its surrounding companions is a self-proclaimed, "collective love letter to club culture, and a celebration of love, inclusion and difference." Dance music has always seemingly been a safe haven for "misfits" standing on the edge of the mainstream, and while EDM manufactured sheen might have taken the piss out of the scene, Hypersex still revels in that defiant, yet warm and inviting attitude.

Like a cheeky homage to Rick James and the late, great High Priest of Pop, Prince, this delectably filthy, sexually charged track with its nasty, funk-drenched bass line, couldn't have found a more flawless messenger than former Azari & III member Fritz Helder. As the radiant, gender-fluid artist sings, "you better work your shit out", this album highlight becomes an anthem for all those who refuse to bow down to BS. Without any accompanying visuals, the track is electro-funk perfection, but the video, with its ruby-red, penile glitter canon, kicks the whole thing up a notch.

9. Touch Sensitive - “Veronica”

The neon-streaked days of roller rinks and turtlenecks, leg warmers and popped polo collars have come and gone, but you wouldn't think so listening to Michael "Touch Sensitive" Di Francesco's dazzling debut Visions. The Sydney-based DJ/producer's long-awaited LP and its lead single "Lay Down", which shot to the top of the Hype Machine charts, are as retro-gazing as they are distinctly modern, with nods to everything from nu disco to slo-mo house.

Featuring a sample lifted from 90s DJ and producer Paul Johnson's "So Much (So Much Mix)," the New Jack-kissed "Veronica" owns the dance floor. While the conversational interplay between the sexed-up couple is anything but profound, there is no denying its charms, however laughably awkward. While not everything on Visions is as instantly arresting, it is a testament to Di Francesco's talents that everything old sounds so damn fresh again.

8. Gourmet - “Delicious”

Neither Gourmet's defiantly eccentric, nine-track debut Cashmere, nor its subsequent singles, "There You Go" or "Yellow" gave any indication that the South African purveyor of "spaghetti pop" would drop one of the year's sassiest club tracks, but there you have it. The Cape Town-based artist, part of oil-slick, independent label 1991's diminutive roster, flagrantly disregards expectation on his latest outing, channeling the Scissor Sisters at their most gloriously bitchy best, Ratchet-era Shamir, and the shimmering dance-pop of UK singer-producer Joe Flory, aka Amateur Best.

With an amusingly detached delivery that rivals Ben Stein's droning roll call in Ferris Bueller's Day Off , he sings "I just want to dance, and fuck, and fly, and try, and fail, and try again…hold up," against a squelchy bass line and stabbing synths. When the percussive noise of what sounds like a triangle dinner bell appears within the mix, one can't help but think that Gourmet is simply winking at his audience, as if to say, "dinner is served."

7. Pouvoir Magique - “Chalawan”

Like a psychoactive ayahuasca brew, the intoxicating "shamanic techno" of Parisian duo Pouvoir Magique's LP Disparition, is an exhilarating trip into unfamiliar territory. Formed in November of 2011, "Magic Power" is the musical project of Clément Vincent and Bertrand Cerruti, who over the years, have cleverly merged several millennia of songs from around the world with 21st-century beats and widescreen electro textures. Lest ye be worried, this is anything but Deep Forest.

In the spring of 2013, Pouvoir Magique co-founded the "Mawimbi" collective, a project designed to unite African musical heritage with contemporary soundscapes, and released two EPs. Within days of launching their label Musiques de Sphères, the duo's studio was burglarized and a hard drive with six years of painstakingly curated material had vanished. After tracking down demos they shared with friends before their final stages of completion, Clément and Bertrand reconstructed an album of 12 tracks.

Unfinished though they might be, each song is a marvelous thing to behold. Their stunning 2016 single "Eclipse," with its cinematic video, might have been one of the most immediate songs on the record, but it's the pulsing "Chalawan," with its guttural howls, fluttering flute-like passages, and driving, hypnotic beats that truly mesmerizes.

6. Purple Disco Machine - “Body Funk” & “Devil In Me” (TIE)

Whenever a bevy of guest artists appears on a debut record, it's often best to approach the project with caution. 85% of the time, the collaborative partners either overshadow the proceedings or detract from the vision of the musician whose name is emblazoned across the top of the LP. There are, however, pleasant exceptions to the rule and Tino Piontek's Soulmatic is one of the year's most delightfully cohesive offerings. The Dresden-born Deep Funk innovator, aka Purple Disco Machine, has risen to international status since 2009, releasing one spectacular track and remix after another. It should go without saying that this long-awaited collection, featuring everyone from Kool Keith to Faithless and Boris D'lugosch, is ripe with memorable highlights.

The saucy, soaring "Mistress" shines a spotlight on the stellar pipes of "UK soul hurricane" Hannah Williams. While it might be a crowning moment within the set, its the strutting discofied "Body Funk", and the album's first single, "Devil In Me", that linger long after the record has stopped spinning. The former track with its camptastic fusion of '80s Sylvester gone 1940s military march, and the latter anthem, a soulful stunner that samples the 1968 Stax hit "Private Number", and features the vocal talents of Duane Harden and Joe Killington, feels like an unearthed classic. Without a doubt, the German DJ's debut is one of the best dance records of the year.

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