Old Settlers' Music Festival 2018
It was a strange morning: one of those days with clouds so low you can just reach out and grab them - when the greens are greener - the browns are browner - and everything else is just grey - when the Austin skyline - vanished - like it’s 1985. Yes, it was a strange Saturday indeed. And we were feeling it. It was perfect. It was perfect. It was adventure.
We made some calls – handled metaphorical matters - and slowly shuffled adventures from one car trunk to another. Intentionally unprepared, the three of us hopped in the van and headed Southeast. "Cardinal directions," I put the car in drive: "Adventure made easy." The best thing I ever learned from love. I did not confess this latter part.
Ten miles out of town, we stopped at the Pilot Knob liquor store and grabbed a one-seven-fifty of “Seagram’s 7 – the best thing in a plastic bottle.” The second best thing I learned from love: equally unconfessed. Buying booze in the hawkeye of the law – when you look like us – and talk like us - is no easy matter – nor is it too hard - just walk straight and say your pleases and thanks yous.
So we did the capitalist thing with the plastic money and the plastic jugs and hit the interstate – speed limit 85mph. A hundred miles away - Willie Nelson was turning 85 – and the radio jockeys rained down tributes from every broadcast tower. We finally got off the highway and the car drove fast but the land was slow. Thundercast backroads – and county troopers – we knew the delicate balance of freedom was hiding - somewhere just over the speed limit.
Eventually, we peeled off the farm road and meandered through the festival roads, waving at wet hippies and crushing tall grasses all the way to a secret little hideaway in the back of the back. The rain let up and we set up camp using knowledge gained from Appalachian wanderings and Che Guevara’s manuscripts. I – was both the most and least prepared – with my gasoline-powered tent on wheels and SXSW dirty laundry.
Within minutes of setting up, it started pouring down rain thick-as-molasses and we staggered into the nearby deer blind – well aware of the wasp nest – first one of us, then two and finally all three – keeping a perfect two-foot radius from the insects – until they started swarming – and we ran out into the storm. In the thundering rain, we were New Settlers at the Old Settlers Music. That’s when things got blurry.
The adventure unfolded slowly, like the myth of Oedipus – but with even less of a plot. Of course, it was a tale set on more limited moral standing. I’ve always said that mud people are the pinnacle of festival culture (FPSF 2010) – and today was to the proof. So we walked out of the woods – three human puddles – two jackets and a trash bag - and hid under the dry underbelly of a big-rig shit-tanker to get our heads straight. We needed more information so we waved over a stranger, asked for knowledge and made a plan.
Two rain-drenched turkey legs later, the sky dried up and the music came back to life. Before we knew it, all that was lost was found and we were reunited in the festival, grooving to the big bang boom of The California Honeydrops and the warm fuzz of JD McPherson.
But things were changing quickly.
As the nighttime descended, the festival ground took on a different energy – everything that was once so clear and obvious now became dark and ominous and distances of 30 feet now seemed to stretch for miles. A bunch of Phoneless Joe Jacksons, we knew that getting lost was a one-way-trip to no-man’s land. Luckily, yins like yangs – and we were no exception – so we gravitated to the lights – the rainbow illuminated forest – just outside of the gates – and determined to find our songwriter friends.
Cardinal directions only get you so far in the festival woods – but luck can get you anywhere. We found the camp - Sketchyville - with relative ease. Our two friends were the only ones there - staring into the fire - strumming their guitars. They played some songs for us - they played some songs for themselves. It struck deep – life lessons learned in the lyrics – subtle salvation on a Saturday night: never discount the vulnerability of a fire’s glow. We soaked it in before the other pickers returned – stuck around to enjoy wild folk covers of Notorious B.I.G. that will never happen again - and eased back out of the woods and into the darkness.
All day we had heard about Shhhh Town - the place where you go way after the main stage ends - up on the hill - where the crowd sits in utter silence upon threat of being "Shhhhhhed" - and you take it all in.
Mother Falcon was playing that night and we were stoked. They were playing an Ennio Morricone soundtrack in its entirety! Or maybe that never actually happened. I don't actually know - but the music was undeniably beautiful - equal parts raw and erudite. We took it all in. Little did we know that the silence was wholly unsustainable. When I almost caught myself on fire - with my last match - the laughter bubbled up - a "Shhhh" was muttered - and we ran down the hill to let it laughter out. We laughed and wandered the woods. We were in rare form.
The night got cold. I slept with a pair of dirty jeans (of unknown origin) wrapped around my neck in the driver seat of my car with the keys in my pocket. The next morning the car was dead. Airbag sensors. We got a jump and raced back to Austin to put on a show. Maybe one day this will all mean something.