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Charley Crockett brings the old-school country vibes to ACL Fest

Is native Texan singer-songwriter Charley Crockett's music classic country? Backwoods blues? Old-school soul? Down-home rock & roll? A little bit of everything, maybe?

What he plays is almost exactly why the Americana genre arose in the mid-1990s, providing a big-umbrella genre for all manner of traditional American music forms that often didn't fit into more narrowly defined radio formats. And so it was fitting that Crockett was honored last month as Emerging Act of the Year at the Americana Music Awards in Nashville.

The AMA uses "Emerging" rather than the Grammys' "Best New Artist" tag precisely because artists who qualify sometimes have been around for awhile. That's the case with Crockett, whose career has gradually picked up speed over an impressive 10-album run since 2015.

Charley Crockett performs at the Austin City Limits Music Festival on Saturday. Oct. 2, 2021.

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A native of San Benito, Crockett moved to Austin from Dallas a few years ago. He's been playing local clubs and touring incessantly since then, including a 2018 ACL Fest appearance on the BMI Stage. Saturday, he and his five-piece band moved up to the larger environs of the VRBO Stage, jamming 18 songs into an hourlong set that surveyed the range of his musical avenues.

Crockett has always mixed his own original material with covers that help illuminate where he's coming from. At ACL, those included songs by the late songwriters Justin Townes Earle ("Harlem River Blues") and James Hand, the Waco troubadour Crockett honored with the tribute album "10 for Slim" released earlier this year.

Crockett isn't a naturally spectacular vocalist, but there's a lot of character to his voice, and he uses it well against arrangements based on a guitar/bass/drums core with lots of color from pedal steel player Nathan Fleming and keyboards/trumpet player Kullen Fox. His music is retro, to be sure, but it sounds fresh in Crockett's hands. He seems a born entertainer, and he dresses the part: On Saturday, he spotted a spiffy lavender suit with rhinestone accents.

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And Crockett is nothing if not creatively humble. Near the end of the set, he kindly asked the crowd, "If you like what you hear, visit the merch table. And if you didn't like it, that's OK too; make a small donation so I can get some lessons."