This blog is coming to you LIVE from none other than Luckenbach, TEXAS! Beer is flowing, brats are cooking, and this place was about everything I was expecting and more. Real deal Texas!
The first part of the Luckenback experience is actually finding Luckenbach. There’s only ten or so permanent residents here, and it is out in the middle of nowhere. You can’t look for the Luckenbach signs because there are none. No, this is not part of the charm, or at least intentionally. It is because every time they hang a sign up that says Luckenbach, it’s snarfed in 24 hours, so now they just don’t bother. The only way you know to turn is a crude piece of painted plywood that says “parking”. You come onto the grounds and it is like an old time Texas village. While I’m writing this there’s some dude riding around on a Longhorn cow, and a loose rooster trying to eat my toes. I stick out like a butter knife in a prime rib world, sitting at a picnic bench, having driven all this way to peck on a keyboard.
Luckenbach consists of a post office/ gift shop, open air bar, some food wagons, a smaller stage, and the dance hall, which is just a big sun-bleached wood sided barn-like structure, with big open windows that fold up to let the breeze in. The crowd is a mixture of real deal cowboys in real deal cowboy hats, shirts, jeans, and boots, and a decent amount of tourists. There are some silly elements of a tourist destination here, but these are outnumbered by the genuine parts, like the people who work here, and some of the regulars who come here day and night, all year, to pick guitars, read poetry, and generally enjoy how slow and easy time moves here.
I started the day off in Austin, the live music capital of the world, and the second home of country music. Then I drove out west on Hwy 290, through Dripping Springs, where Willie Nelson put on the Dripping Springs reunion in 1972 (and where Billy Joe Shaver’s career started), which was the REAL country music woodstock, and the precursor to Willie’s famous 4th of July picnics.
Then I headed through Fredricksburg and into Kerrville, birthplace of of the father of country music, Jimmy Rodgers, and the home of people like Kinky Friedman and Robert Earl Keen, and home to the Kerrville Folk Festival. I hung out with Big G of the Texas Roadshow all day, and then headed out here to Luckenbach to see one of the original outlaws, Billy Joe Shaver.
It is easy to feel the Outlaws here, and the vitality and legacy of the Outlaw movement. Willie, Waylon, Ray Wylie, Jerry Jeff, and all the others played here many times, and those that are alive still do. Since the departure of the Armadillo World Headquarters, this is and has been the premier Outlaw venue, period.
And this area, the central Hill country of Texas, with Luckenbach, Kerrville, Austin, etc. all so close, it makes you wonder why this is not the home of country music. The country music culture is so rich here you could cut it with a knife. Shreveport, LA with the Louisiana Hayride, or even Bakersfield, CA could have also been the home of country music. But Nashville had the Grand Ole Opry, and the Grand Ole Opry had Hank Williams. And that is why it seems more ironic than ever sitting here on a picnic bench in Luckenback, that Hank Williams is not a member of the Opry. This makes about as much sense if I was to yell at the top of my lungs right now, “Bob Wills sucks!” or bust out a ghetto blaster and start break dancing on the Luckenbach Post Office porch.
This is Luckenback god dammit, and it has not changed a bit since Jerry Jeff Walker recorded Viva Terlingua here live in 1973. Can Nashville boast that, that is has preserved its heritage and character, and still makes the music its foremost concern?
When Waylon penned his hit “Luckenbach, TX” he had never been there before, only heard people speak about this place. Since then Luckenbach has come to symbolize not just a place, but a state of mind. And now I know why.
There is nothing to fight for or fight against here in Luckenback, nothing to anger the blood about. It is the way it is supposed to be, just like it has always been. No need to sign a petition, write an angry letter, post a banner. All you need to do in Luckenbach is to relax and enjoy the music. For tonight, all is fine with country music, the Outlaws never faded away, and the music is for the people, by the people.
(Note: I wrote this blog while sitting in Luckenbach, and added pictures and links later. I will have a review of the Billy Joe Shaver concert coming up, as well as a recap of my day with Big G of the Texas Roadshow.)