Memorable Moments Mark Willie Nelson’s 2024 Luck Reunion

2024 was the 12th year for the Luck Reunion at Willie Nelson’s little Western town on his ranch outside of Austin. What started as a very exclusive gathering has become a world-class event with international interest due to the names that play and attend the event during Austin’s greater SXSW festivities. This was especially true in 2024 due to all of all of the memorable moments that happened during the packed, frenetic, one-day, seven-stage event.

Kermit the Frog showed up during Willie Nelson’s headliner set, and dominated the news coming out of Luck 2024. Willie and Kermit started the show off singing “Rainbow Connection,” and then came back on stage for the Gospel medley of “Will The Circle Be Unbroken” and “I’ll Fly Away” at the end. Kermit singing with Willie was a bucket list moment none of us though we ever had, but were more than grateful to mark off.

This wasn’t the only landmark collaboration though, or the only memorable event. Tyler Childers really had no business playing something as small as the Luck Reunion in 2024. He’s got a schedule of sold out arena shows coming up this year, including two nights at the Bridgestone in Nashville, and two at Madison Square Garden in New York. But due to the prestige of the Luck Reunion, he signed up. It was basically the kickoff to his 2024 North American tour.

Even before his set began, Childers was part of another landmark collaboration when he showed up to Willie Nelson’s tiny chapel in Luck to sing “Old Country Church” with Lukas Nelson. Along with the bigger stages in Luck, there are intimate spaces like the chapel that has a max capacity of 49. People wait sometimes hours for the opportunity to see a show there. The 49 souls who waited to see Lukas got a special treat they will never forget.

But along with the big names came memorable moments for up-and-comers and more unknown artist that got the opportunity to create some national buzz for themselves via the event. Tami Neilson is a Canadian native currently living in New Zealand, with music that is appreciated all across the globe by those in-the-know. She opened the main stage again this year just like she did in 2022 when she released a duet with Willie Nelson called “Beyond The Stars.”

Tami Neilson

This year was also memorable for Neilson since she reunited with two of her brothers on stage for the first time in 20 years. The Neilsons were a traditional country family band when the siblings were growing up. Tami regularly plays with her guitarist brother Jay Neilson in North America. But her other brother Todd was also behind the drums in Luck as they played songs from Tami’s upcoming project Neilson Sings Nelson. Nicky Diamonds and Grace Bowers also joined Neilson on stage during the set.

Jay Neilson
Todd Neilson

How did a New Zealand-based artist get to play the Luck Reunion, and twice no less? Heading into the event, Tami revealed that it actually started with a showcase at Folk Alliance in New Orleans that was curated in part by Saving Country Music.

Kim Reed from Luck saw Neilson at the showcase and decided that Luck needed her right then and there. Neilson eventually made a fan of Willie’s wife, who then put the wheels in motion for the recording with Willie Nelson on “Beyond The Stars,” and eventually the performance with Willie on the Luck stage in 2022.

For Summer Dean, her road to Luck came through Fort Worth sponsoring a side stage that featured all Fort Worth native performers. Dean made the best of her half hour acoustic set, as did Grady Spencer, Jake Paleschic, and Matt Tedder.

Summer Dean

Songwriter Lou Hazel also received the opportunity of a lifetime after winning a Luck songwriting contest and getting to perform on the main stage. As he said from the stage, he can be likened to “a little sick and twisted John Prine,” which was an apt comparison. The stage wasn’t too big for Hazel or his songs, and the appreciative crowd listened intently.

Speaking of John Prine, the record label he started called Oh Boy was there with four of its top performers. Arlo McKinley, Emily Scott Robinson, Tré Burt, and Mick Flannery all toured together to Luck, and played in a songwriter round under Luck’s Revival Tent, followed a full set by recent Oh Boy signeee Swamp Dogg, who has a bluegrass album on the way. BMI also hosted a similar songwriter event with Tyler Halverson, Kade Hoffman, and Harper O’Neill all trading songs.

Emily Scott Robinson

Another one of the early acts that impressed was Jobi Riccio, whose 2023 album Whiplash was one of the better ones of the year. She played her own leads on a sunburst Telecaster and made a big impression on those who arrived at Luck early.

Jobi Riccio

Though the stage in Willie’s chapel and in the Luck Opry House make for intimate performances, they also cause frustration for fans that arrive hoping to see their favorite artists, only to wait in line for sometimes over an hour and still not get in. This was the story for many people who wanted to see fast-rising Nick Shoulders in the Opry House, and couldn’t get in. Those that did get in experienced one of the best Nick Shoulders performances he’s pulled out, finishing with a goosebumps-inducing a capella number.

Nick Shoulders in the Luck Opry House

Another annual frustration point for Luck attendees is just not being able to see everything that you want to, but it’s a good problem to have. Beyond he country and roots realm, you had big bands from indie rock such as The Toadies and The Polyphonic Spree perform. Two different attendees can have a completely different Luck experience depending how you curate your day.

But pretty much everyone was at Tyler Childers, who played a set that included in part:

–Old Country Church
–Time of the Preacher
–Whitehouse Road
–Country Squire
–Rustin’ in the Rain
–All Your’n
–Honky Tonk Flame
–Triune God
–House Fire
…as well as a couple of extended instrumental interludes.

Childers has performed Willie’s “Tim of the Preacher” before, but this tribute to Willie was especially meaningful since Luck, TX is the little Western town Willie constructed to be the set for the 1986 film version of his album Red Headed Stranger. The song “Time of the Preacher” is the opening song on the Red Headed Stranger album that many consider the greatest country album of all time.

Childers is featuring a new keyboard player currently named Jimmy Rowland. He’s previously played with Brent Cobb and others, and replaces Chase Lewis, who recently announced he was taking some time off from Tyler’s band. Along with a Hare Krishna-themed covering over the keys, Krishna music played for about 15 minutes before Tyler’s set. This also accounted for Tyler’s headgear, and the scarf he wore when singing with Lukas Nelson earlier in the day in the chapel.

Tyler Childers

Those who didn’t head to the Toadies afterward Tyler Childers stuck around for The Red Clay Strays, who yesterday were considered up-and-comers themselves, and next year might be headlining their own festivals. Along with putting together an excellent set as usual, the band seems to be weathering the surging interest with appreciation, humility, and grounded-ness. They were one of the most buzzed-about bands heading into the greater SXSW gathering in 2024.

Brandon Coleman of The Red Clay Strays

It was a great year for the Luck Reunion, though once again leaving Luck turned into a logistical nightmare. Those who parked onsite or took shuttle busses back to Austin had an easy time of it. But those waiting to be shuttled to the offsite parking lot about 3 1/2 miles away got stranded for upwards of two hours. It was already a dicey proposition that two school buses offered enough capacity for the job. Then when one of them broke down, it became the same nightmare scenario that seems to snake bite this event every year.

Saving Country Music left after the 3rd song of Willie Nelson’s set in hopes of avoiding an exit fiasco. It still took nearly two hours to find a seat on a shuttle bus. There were families with young children in tears as they waited in line. When they formally announced one of the buses had broken down, a fight broke out between two guys about who was first in line. For those in offsite parking, it became a nightmare that not even the memory of Willie singing with Kermit could quash.

But the Luck Reunion is not just about the attendees in person. It’s about the connections made, the collaborations that transpire, and the worthy music careers that get a lift. In 2024, it felt like there were more of these moments than ever before.

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All photos by Kyle “Trigger” Coroneos. For more coverage from SXSW 2024, follow Saving Country Music on Instagram. Apologies to performers not pictured or mentioned.

Tyler Childers
Childers bass player Craig Burletic
Guitarist, steel player James Barker
The Professor Jesse Wells
Drummer Rod Elkins
New Childers keyboard player Jimmy Rowland
Childers guitarist CJ Cain
Tyler Halverson at BMI Songwriters Swap
Daniel Donato
Old Crow Medicine Show
Old Crow frontman Ketch Secor brought the energy, and the cheese factor.
Willie Nelson harmonica player Mickey Raphael sat in with Old Crow
…so did Steve Earle, who sang “Hillbilly Highway” with Old Crow
Arlo McKinley in the Revival Tent
Tré Burt
Red Clay Strays on the Barn Stage
Songwriting competition winner Lou Hazel
Cathie Guthrie and Amy Nelson of Folk Uke
Durand Jones
Kade Hoffman with Tyler Halverson
Harper O’Neill
Nicky Diamonds singing with Tami Neilson
Lukas Nelson in the Chapel
© 2023 Saving Country Music