Grab your family and your favorite pair of toe-tappin' shoes and head on out to the Old Settlers Music Festival this April 9 -11,1999. This year's 12th annual bluegrass festival will be held in the central Texas blue bonnet paradise of Round Rock, Texas. The Great Nation of Texas is proud to host this stellar national musical event. The Old Settlers Music Festival places its own distinctive mark on the meaning "bluegrass" music. By presenting well known national, international and local central Texas artists, the fans get to savor a bluegrass musical smorgasbord of bluegrass talent, Texas style!

Recently, I was fortunate to visit with Randy Collier, the leader of the organization that produces the event. He co-produces the event with Scott Marshall and Bill "Doc" Roberts. Mr. Collier was able to provide historical background for this popular central Texas event. Since 1984, Mr. Collier has been involved in the computer field and presently works 50-60 hours per week at Comp-Utility Corp. which supplies infrastructure components to run computers ( backup generators, computer furniture, redundant air conditioner systems, pulling of both copper and optical fiber cables ). Starting in October of each year, he is busy booking musical artists and taking care of festival details right up until the beginning of the festival. His love of bluegrass music helps keep his goal of providing one of the best Texas musical events ever brightly burning, while at the same time trying to balance his real world job with the enormous volunteer duties of The Old Settlers Music Festival

In the Beginning....

Back in 1987, the city of Round Rock received a tax rebate of hotel/motel money from the state. The Mayor of Round Rock went to the Director of Public Works, Jim Nuse, and asked him for ideas for uses of these funds to promote tourism in Round Rock. Mr. Nuse knew of a festival in North Carolina. He suggested to the Mayor that they establish a bluegrass festival for this area. The Old Settlers Bluegrass Festival, Inc. was formed as a non- profit corporation to produce the first Old Settlers Music Festival in 1987. The first festival was held in a metal building at the festival's present location in Old Settlers Park. The first festival was successful enough so that the second festival could be held in 1988.

Today, the festival is produced from funds supplied by ticket sales and sponsorships. There is no paid staff. All the work is done by volunteers. Community-based organizations such as The United Way, Boy Scouts, Future Farmers of America, and the Chamber of Commerce have had a beneficial association with the festival. Public service groups are allowed to work at the festival to raise funds for their group by providing a service for the festival or selling products during the event. This close working relationship between the festival and these organizations generates a spirit of goodwill in the local community.

In 1990 Randy Collier moved to Austin, Texas and joined the bluegrass club, the Central Texas Bluegrass Association. A year later he was elected president of the club. Mr. Collier contacted the Public Works Department of Round Rock and asked if he could help with the festival. In 1991, he did some marketing for the event. In 1992, he helped book bands and publicize the event. In 1993 he became more involved and in 1994 he was involved a lot. In 1994 Jim Nuse told Randy the festival is exactly what the city had wanted it to be. He asked Randy to take charge of the event. Randy agreed to if the Public Works Department would keep doing the good things it had been doing like putting up barricades and road signs for the event. Along with a couple of volunteers, Collier mapped out the long range goal of the festival, to become one of the best musical events in the state of Texas. Up to this point, attendance had been 200-800 people per day ( Originally, the festival was a Friday and Saturday affair.). Collier's goal was to have several thousand people attending the event per day. In October 1995, the first festival was held under his leadership and patterned after MerleFest in Wilkesboro, North Carolina. MerleFest is one of the largest bluegrass festivals of its kind.

And the rains came....

Because of numerous other October events, like football games, and being the rainy season, it was decided to move the festival to springtime in April. However, April 1996 was only six months away from the last festival in October 1995. Therefore 1996 festival was skipped over and the next festival was scheduled for April 1997. April was selected because the rain charts for the past 10 years showed it not to be too wet during that time frame. Festival setup at the Old Settlers Park occurred between Monday and Wednesday. On Thursday everything was ready for show time Friday. Randy picked a band up at the airport Thursday night and went out to dinner. When they got back to the hotel at midnight, it was raining cats and dogs!

Randy decided to drive out to the festival site and inspect things. The park has four entrances, three of which were flooded. He was able to get in by way of the back entrance. Located in the park is a small lake. The main stage was originally set up about 150 feet away from the water. At 2:00 A.M. the situation did not look too bad but Randy looked up toward the clouds and spoke to the heavens, "Help me out here!"

The next morning, Friday, the day of the festival, he was awakened by a call at 5:30 A.M. saying the back stage was 5 feet under water and the water had come over the top of the main stage. Six RVs were swamped. The biggest thing in peril was a 40 feet by 5 feet tall flatbed trailer with 2 electric generators valued at $40,000 each and 300 gallons of diesel fuel sitting in the water. The water had come up to the floor level of the trailer bed and it was still raining. What now was happening was that Round Rock was getting its 100 year flood. A crane company was called in to get the trailer and its contents onto "dry" land. Truckloads of hay were brought in to fill the muddy areas. During the day as work on the festival area was going on, teams of volunteers were arranging for another venue, La Zona Rosa in Austin, to handle the Friday night festival. Volunteers redirected the ticket holders and radio announcements by radio station KGSR helped to let all know what was going on. About 800 tickets had been sold for Friday night. La Zona Rosa could hold about 1000 people. Thanks to La Zona Rosa which canceled its own performances, the festival's Friday night's show went off as planned.

While the performances in Austin were taking place, 30 volunteers were at the festival site getting it ready for Saturday's event. The weather was suppose to be sunny and 80 degrees. The stage people were moving the stage and the tent people were moving the tent. Come Saturday noon, the festival was kicked off. Oddly enough, the publicity of the festival's aqueous hardships caused by the rain, help boost the festival's exposure and attendance in 1998. Rain and weather matters have always been a concern. In 1994, it rained hard Friday night. At that time the festival was in the metal building at the park. The heavy rain sometimes made it hard to hear the performers. Some people's cars got stuck in the parking lot and had to be pulled out by four wheel drive vehicles.

Musical Magic

From 1987 to 1994, the festival had been held in the metal building. It held about 600 people and had one stage and some concessionaires. The festival was a small intimate, high quality, low cost affair. Tickets ranged from $5 to $10. In 1995, two stages were set up, one large stage and a second that became a song workshop stage. The craft and food vendor area became larger. Each year some legendary talent is brought in to perform as well as talent that gives an Austin flavor like Guy Clark, Joe Ely, Don Walser and Tish Hinojosa. Legendary performers like Doc Watson, Roseanne Cash, Peter Rowan, Bela Fleck, and Alison Kraus are just a few of the past performers. By selecting musicians that can interact with each other in an improvised musical session at the song workshop, something magical happens and the fans know it. This is what the festival is all about.

Last year is a good example of the performance magic that happens. Picture Doc Watson trading licks with David Grisman or the all star band of Tony Rice, Jerry Douglas, Peter Rowan, Vasser Clements, Ronnie McCoury, and Mike Bubb picking and instrumentally dueling. This makes for a bag of musical magic in anyone's book. One would have to go to many individual shows to hear the performances you receive on one stage of The Old Settlers Music Festival. This is what makes the event really special to a lot of music lovers.

This Year's Lineup....So Far

Guy Clark (TN)

Joe Ely (TX)

James McMurtry (Aus)

Patty Griffin (TN)

Tim O'Brien (CO)

Druha Trava (Czech)

John Cowan with Barbara Lamb (TN)

Fred Eaglesmith (Canada)

Cornerstone (NY)

Slaid Cleaves (MA)

Classical Grass (Hou)

Lonestar (Hou)

Cactus Pickers (Hou)

High Standard (DFW)

Southern Union (DFW)

Leeanne Atherton (Aus)

Danny Santos (Aus)

Moonlighters (DFW)

The Good, the Bad and the Bluegrass (DFW)

And others

Putting It All Together

What is it like to put on an event like The Old Settlers Music Festival? Randy Collier gives a run down of what is required. "Grant money is applied for from the city of Round Rock. Sponsorship packages are sent to several corporations. A budget is planned for the funds received. Without sponsors, the festival would not happen. Some sponsors donate things in-kind and some donate cash. The booking of artists starts around the October and November time frame. Certain performers are selected and their agents contacted. Offers are made and responses from the agents are awaited. If a selected artists cannot make it, we look for someone else.

"In the past advertising was done in bluegrass newsletters and a couple of local ads. Now subcontractors are hired for marketing and publicity. Thousands of dollars are spent on print and radio advertisement. This year in kind advertising on television will be done. For print, Austin, Houston, Dallas, and San Antonio are targeted. Radio advertisement is done in Austin only. On our future agenda is advertising in national magazines. In the past the festival has not made the deadline. Last year the Internet has been the biggest help in promoting the festival. Music fans will search the Internet for performing schedules of particular artists. In doing so, they come across the festival's web page. The festival's first website was in 1997. Volunteers initially created the website. Austin Web Publishing donated space for our site." Mr. Collier says that it has been a real pleasure in working with Austin Web Publishing. Currently, John Ivanoff is the Web Master.

" In order to get sponsors, lots of talent is booked. Agents now know who we are. When the artists gets to the festival, they are given the red carpet treatment. Good food and beverages are provided backstage. If an artist need something then we send someone after it. When the artists takes off and goes to their next gig, and walks into a shabby joint with no food, they will start thinking about how great it was at The Old Settlers Music Festival. They tell other artists and our reputation grows. All of the performers want to come back."

Many of the fans are repeat customers coming from England, California, Michigan, North Carolina, and Pennsylvania. Several dozen people last year came from out of country. The Internet and word of mouth are the way they heard about the festival. People know it is going to be a good event every year. The ultimate vision for the festival is to make enough money every year for the festival to become self perpetuating. Randy is amazed at all of the performers he has met over the years. He is flattered that he has played a role in the festival. It is now quickly becoming a legendary event in the Hill Country of Central Texas!

Interview of Randy Collier conducted on 1-25-1999 by Paul Johnston

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Copyright 1999 Paul Johnston