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OLD SETTLER’S MUSIC FESTIVAL

OLD SETTLER’S MUSIC FESTIVAL. An annual bluegrass, Americana, and roots music festival known as the Old Settler’s Music Festival was first held in 1987 at Old Settlers Park in Round Rock, Texas. In recent years the festival has moved to its current location at the Salt Lick Pavilion and Camp Ben McCulloch near Driftwood, Texas.

According to Judy Knopp-Syrek, one of the festival’s founders, the event started as a gathering of musicians, including Wes Green, Ernie Stringfellow, Lynn Cannon, Duane Knopp, and other members of the Old Settlers Fiddlers Association who met every Sunday in Round Rock to jam and socialize. Before long, members of the Central Texas Bluegrass Association (CTBA) also joined in the Sunday jam sessions.

At that time, in the effort to promote tourism, Round Rock public works director Jim Nuse suggested the idea of hosting a bluegrass festival funded by hotel/motel tax money. With the support of the city of Round Rock and the CTBA, the event was held in Old Settler’s Park. The city agreed, and the Old Settler’s Music Festival, which was named after the park, debuted in 1987.

Although crowds were rather small that first year, the festival did break even, so organizers agreed to continue the event. With the financial backing of local officials and the CTBA, festival founders agreed to keep developing the Old Settlers Music Festival modeled on MerleFest in North Carolina, one of the largest bluegrass festivals in the country. However in 1989 the CTBA discontinued funding because of the festival’s limited profitability, so the city of Round Rock took over control of the event.

In 1990 Randy Collier, a businessman, musician, and CTBA member, began working as a volunteer for the festival, and by 1994 he had become the festival’s president, a position he held until 2007. Prior to Collier’s tenure as president, the festival was housed in a single building with limited capacity for musicians and festival-goers. Daily attendance was around 600 people, and the musicians’ wives sold homemade chili and other treats at the small concession stands. However after Collier took over as president, he built two new stages along with a larger concession area for food and craft vendors, and he substantially increased publicity efforts on behalf of the festival. The date of the festival was also changed from October to April in 1997.

Over the years the festival has grown dramatically, but it also has endured its share of challenges. One of the worst of these came in 1997 when torrential rains flooded Old Settler’s Park and submerged the stages, sound equipment, generators, and camping areas. Although the festival lost between $70,000 and $80,000 that year, the tragedy brought additional media attention to the event and made many more people aware of the festival.

In 2000 Collier and the other festival organizers decided to relocate the event to the Hill Country just west of Austin. In 2000 and 2001 the festival was held at a now-defunct event center in Driftwood, Texas. In 2002 the festival moved again to its current location at the Salt Lick Pavilion and Camp Ben McCulloch near Driftwood. This location south of Austin is nestled alongside picturesque Onion Creek with nearby camp sites scattered among fields of bluebonnets and other wildflowers. The festival features two large stages and two smaller stages, numerous food and arts and crafts vendors, several educational workshops, a youth talent competition, and a variety of family-oriented events.

Old Settler’s Music Festival, held over four days during the third weekend in April, attracted around 17,000 visitors from all over the world in the 2010s. The musical lineup has diversified considerably and includes bluegrass, Americana, swing, blues, country, jazz, and other genres. Some of the many artists who have performed include Alison Krauss, Delbert McClinton, Nickel Creek, Del McCoury Band, Ruthie Foster, Patty Griffin, Ralph Stanley, Terri Hendrix, Joan Osborne, Yonder Mountain String Band, Guy Clark, Bela Fleck, David Grisman, Peter Rowan, Slaid Cleaves, Shawn Colvin, Marty Stuart, New Monsoon, and numerous others. Proceeds from the festival benefit local nonprofit organizations including the Campfire Boys and Girls, the Health Alliance for Austin Musicians, and the Capitol Area Food Bank. In 2008 Jean Spivey and Scott Marshall assumed the duties of directing the event. Spivey remained in charge of marketing in 2015.

BIBLIOGRAPHY: 

Randy Collier, Interview by Erinn Park, April 4, 2008. Joe Gross, “Old Settler’s Music fest mixes old, new”(http://www.austin360.com/recreation/content/recreation/guides/visit/settlers.html), accessed May 21, 2008. Paul Johnston, “The 1999 Old Settlers Music Festival (Fiddling, Fretting, and Frailing)” (http://www.austinnewsstory.com/OldSettlersMusicFestival/1999/festival.html ), accessed November 7, 2011. Judy Knopp-Syrek, Interview by Erinn Park, April 1, 2008. Old Settler’s Music Festival (http://www.oldsettlersmusicfest.org), accessed August 13, 2015.

Erinn Park

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Handbook of Texas Online, Erinn Park , "Old Settler’s Music Festival," accessed October 23, 2017, http://www.tshaonline.org/handbook/online/articles/xfoaa.

Uploaded on June 18, 2015. Modified on August 13, 2015. Published by the Texas State Historical Association.