Sunday afternoon’s open house to show off the new grounds of the Old Settler’s Music Festival came with a “rain or shine” designation. Given this month’s weather in Central Texas, there was no surprise it turned out to be the former. Still, hundreds came out to the remote countryside location southeast of Lockhart to see what’s in store for the 31st Old Settler’s Fest in mid-April.
After a 16-year run in Driftwood southwest of Austin, the festival announced plans to relocate amid controversy with a potential Driftwood competitor. That was resolved last month in an out-of-court settlement, with the Driftwood fest shelving its plans for a simultaneous fest at the previous site.
Meanwhile, Old Settler’s staff and volunteers have been working overtime to get the new digs ready. On Sunday, the public got the first look at the grounds, which board member Gary Hartman told the crowd is 2.5 times as large as the previous Salt Lick Pavilion/Camp Ben McCulloch site in Driftwood.
Most of the open house action took place near the roadside front of the property, where attendees gathered at a covered open-air bandstand area for live music from Shinyribs’ Kevin Russell, Jeff Plankenhorn, Carolyn Wonderland and American Dreamer. A squall passed through right around the 2 p.m. start-time; the rest of the afternoon was marked mostly by gray but dry skies with occasional light drizzle.
Next to an adjacent small house, tents were set up to serve homemade snacks, hot dogs and beverages. More adventurous and curious attendees walked a quarter-mile or more down the hardpack-caliche road, turned muddy from the rain, and wandered wide-open fields where signs showed the future locations of stages, campgrounds, vendor areas and the like.
Between music performances, Hartman talked about the challenges ahead and encouraged fest fans to volunteer in helping to get the grounds ready in time for the April 19-22 festival. This year’s top draws include Jamestown Revival, Calexico, Ray Wylie Hubbard, Greensky Bluegrass, Railroad Earth, the California Honeydrops, Colter Wall, and the all-star acoustic women trio I’m With Her (featuring Sarah Jarosz, Sara Watkins and Aoife O’Donovan).
Hartman also noted that Old Settler’s plans to expand gradually in future years at its new site. The additional space certainly accommodates the possibility for growth; it would easily be feasible for the festival to add another stage if future demand supports that.
A down side for Austinites is that it’s a significantly farther drive. From my residence in south-central Austin, I logged 43 miles one-way, taking 51 minutes. (That compares to about 20 miles in just under 30 minutes to the previous Driftwood site.) Situated about 20 minutes southeast of Lockhart at 1616 FM 3158, the Caldwell County location is within a half-hour of communities such as Bastrop and Gonzales. But it’s essentially no closer than Driftwood was to population centers such as San Antonio, San Marcos New Braunfels.
Old Settler’s has partnered with FestDrive to provide limited shuttle service. In Austin, they’ll depart from the downtown Whole Foods at 2:30 p.m. Thursday-Friday, noon Saturday and 8:30 a.m. Sunday (returning 30 minutes after the final act each day). Round-trip shuttle tickets are $40 each day (or $20 one-way).
Parking in open grass fields on Sunday appeared to cause no stuck-in-mud issues despite the wet conditions. Those driving should prepare for possible traffic jams on the way in, as the roads leading to the fest are small and there’s only one entrance to the grounds.