Willie Nelson’s Luck Reunion Made Me An Outlaw And Brought Me Closer To Americana’s Roots HOMEPAGE: LUCK REUNION 2018
SPICEWOOD, TX- After a couple of days walking miles, and fighting drunken crowds, in the streets of Austin for SXSW, I was excited to enjoy a little reprieve and head out to Spicewood, TX to spend a day at Willie Nelson’s ranch for his annual Luck Reunion. I figured it would be a day to enjoy some solid music from Willie, his friends and his family. What I didn’t anticipate was that it would be one of the most enjoyable musical events that I would ever have the opportunity to experience; and experience that would immerse me into and bring me closer to the roots of Americana.
Started seven years ago as an exclusive event hosted on Willie Nelson’s Luck, Texas ranch, Luck Reunion’s purpose was to cultivate and spread the culture of Luck, Texas. Hosting top-notch musicians, artisans, and chefs who live by an ethos of outlaws to “follow their dreams without compromise”, each participant was selected by their desire to “cultivate the new while showing honor to influence […] preserving the legacy of Luck, Texas.”
The festival itself is situated on Willie Nelson’s working ranch. As I stepped onto the festival grounds, I was literally transported into a private little city spawned from Willie’s imagination. The buildings that aligned the dirt roads were built in the mid-80s for the film adaptation of Nelson’s “Red Headed Stranger”, and each building was bustling with various types of activities. There were stables, an opry, a small chapel (more on that a little later), a tannery sponsored by Southwest Airlines’ where you could create an authentic leather custom leather luggage tag, saloons- plenty of saloons- where you could drink free Lagunitas beer, Hendrick’s Gin, Playa Real tequila and more, and even a “dispensary”, which unfortunately was closed for the day.
As press, I was given the set times of scheduled performances prior to the day, but per the festival organizers was asked not to publish the same as they wanted “to give our audience the opportunity to discover as many possible kick-ass artists throughout the day…rather than just coming out to catch the hits”. I still tried to scheduling my day, but ended up embodying the outlaw ethos by abandoning said schedule almost at the outset, going to “places that I’ve never been, seein’ things that I may never see again“, simply enjoying the day as fully as possible.
Tickets for the day-long festival are relatively hard to come by (you need to be on their mailing list or otherwise be notified when batches of tickets are released for sale, with a limit to two tickets per purchase), but those lucky (pun intended) enough to score access to be one of the 4,000 attendees are in for a real treat. It’s a music festival, yes, but the atmosphere was about as intimate as it could possibly get. You could be standing in line waiting for a beverage and Son Little or Erika Wennerstrom could walk by (this happened to me and yes, I did ask for selfies). You could watch a performance by Hop Along or Ezra Furman, and spark up a conversation with them as they are packing their gear- which they each graciously did.
The venues for each performance were equally intimate. For example, watching the crowd surround Nikki Lane’s raucous performance on the small “Back To The Source” stage was quite exhilarating considering she plays venues in Los Angeles that are 5x’s as large. But no venue was as heavenly (another pun intended) as the the performance(s) I was able to catch at the Luck Chapel.
Part of the reason making a schedule is somewhat pointless for Luck Reunion is due in part to the performances held at the Luck Chapel. It’s a small building that accommodates no more 65 people, so if you wanted to see an EXTREMELY intimate performance, in a wonderfully acoustic wooden building, you needed to get in line early and wait patiently to be seated in the pews. I’m sure I could have pulled the “But look, I’m press” card, but the Nelson family code is “Don’t be an Asshole”, and on this day I wanted to be part of Willie’s family.
I happily waited in line for about 45 minutes, and was able to hear the mellifluous Jade Bird bird perform. I wish could have enjoyed Ray Wylie Hubbard’s Luck Chapel Session (which featured John Doe) or Kevin Morby’s performance, but there just wasn’t enough time in the day- although I did get to stand outside of the Luck Chapel to hear the lovely Margo Price- who was the “surprise” Luck Chapel guest for the day- perform a stirring cover of Tom Petty’s “Mary Jane’s Last Dance”
And that was the ONLY thing that I couldn’t stand about the festival. There just wasn’t enough time to catch everything that I wanted to catch. I would have loved to hear Willie’s youngest son Micah “Particle Kid” Nelson crooning “Everything Is Bullshit” … I heard that I missed a stunningly emotional performance from Sunny War … Even at the urging by Blank Range, I couldn’t make it over to see the otherworldly Liz Cooper & the Stampede … there just wasn’t enough time in the day.
But that’s what made my experience at Luck Reunion so special. In addition to the laid back, family-first oriented atmosphere and the all around good vibes, there was just so much god damned good music. From country to soul to rock and roll, the best of what Americana had to offer was ready and willing to fully entertain at Willie’s Luck Reunion, and I did my best to soak in as much as I could in the 12 hours I was there [see the list at the bottom of the page, and stay tuned for more thoughts and photo galleries!].
BELOW IS A LIST OF ARTISTS THAT WE WERE ABLE TO CATCH AT LUCK REUNION. CLICK ON THROUGH TO CHECK EVERYTHING OUT!
Nikki Lane [Review + Photos Coming Soon!]
The Texas Gentlemen [Review + Photos Coming Soon!]
Willie Nelson [Review + Photos Coming Soon!]
Derrick K. Lee is a music attorney, blogger, concert photographer and co-owner of Blurred Culture. He goes to a lot of shows and sometimes he writes good. Music is his boo.
All photos are edited with iPhoto. Lightroom edits can be made upon request. For prints and/or approvals for special uses of any photo taken by Derrick, please contact him directly.