Let’s go to Luckenbach, Texas
Waylon, Willie and the boys may have been on to something. When the insistent calls of the Blackberry and the hectic pace of modern life are just too much to bear, you can get out to the center of Central Texas, just a little ways off RR 1376, and enter a place where time moves as slowly as a summer river. Around here, there’s nothin‘ to do but sit back, listen to some pickin‘ and crack open a longneck. Luckenbach, Texas isn’t much to look at — the entire town consists of a dancehall and saloon — but it attracts some of the finest musicians in the nation almost every day of the week. When you’re ready to stop runnin' the rat race, come by and set a spell. It’ll remind you that all you really need is good songs, good beer and good friends.
Out in Luckenbach, Texas ain’t nobody feelin’ no pain
When you drive down Ranch Road 1376 you’ll probably miss the tiny turn off that is the only road in the “town” of Luckenbach. But this bend in the road occupies a huge place in the Texas mythology, symbolizing a laid-back style of life, away from the pressures of the city and the responsibilities of fame and fortune.
The Basics of Love
Luckenbach is, in many ways, a story of love. It was established as a trading post in 1849, but almost forty years passed before it received its now iconic name. In 1886, Rev. August Engel established a post office in his home. He asked his sister, Minna, to give it a name, and she chose the name of her fiance, Carl Albert Luckenbach, to demonstrate her affection. (Sort of how the Taj Mahal got its name, but with much less fuss and marble.) She became the town’s first postmistress, and her husband went on to found the town of Albert a few miles south of Stonewall.
The post office eventually encompassed a blacksmith’s, a cotton gin, a saloon, a dance hall and a warehouse. The town was, in many ways, a typical Texas town, but it did have some musical roots, right from the beginning. In 1893, the first Gillespie County Scheutzenbund Fest was held. These festivals occur on the first full moon of August, which provides plenty of light for the dancing and singing that last through the night and into the next morning; this was the beginning of the “Luckenbach moon” tradition. In 1898, the Luckenbach Frohsinn hosted more than a dozen choirs from around Texas at the annual Saengerfest. And, many years later, Henry R. Frantzen composed the Luckenbach March in honor of this festival (only the words remain; the melody has been lost to time).
Buy Some Boots and Faded Jeans
Almost one hundred years passed, and the remaining members of the Engel family decided to retire from their official duties. The Luckenbach post office closed. Once the center of Luckenbach gravity had faded, there was little holding the community together, and in 1970, Benno Engel, the last postmaster, placed an ad in the local paper that read, “Town for Sale — lock, stock and dancehall.” In that only-in-the-movies way that these things happen, a trio of characters bought the town for $30,000. Hondo Crouch appointed himself mayor, and began promoting the largely abandoned “town” as a beer-drinking, music-loving mecca for guitar-toting cowboys and those that love them. Luckenbach wasn’t a town with a festival; it was a series of festivals that happened to be located in a town. Parties and celebrations like the “Hug-Ins,” the Luckenbach “World’s Fair,” the Ladies State Chili Bust, and the Mud Dauber Festival attracted thousands of people to this out-of-the-way hamlet, long before the town achieved world-wide fame.
Waylon and Willie and the Boys
The Luckenbach mystique attracted attention from the music industry, and in 1973, Jerry Jeff Walker decided to record an album in the old dancehall, using hay for sound baffles and the character of an old Texas town for a backdrop. Viva Terlingua went gold, and brought national attention to this tiny, back-country burg. But when Bobby Emmons and Chips Moman wrote "Luckenbach, Texas (Back to the Basics)" for Waylon Jennings and Willie Nelson, this turn-in-the-road attracted worldwide attention, and the dream of a small Texas mecca for country musicians finally fulfilled its promise.
Today, Luckenbach occupies a legendary place in Texas tradition. It is a weekly destination for aspiring and established musicians. Lovers and partiers congregate here each week to celebrate the spirit of this place, holding weddings and shindigs of every variety in the dancehall, which is rented out almost every week of the year. Festivals of all kinds cover the calendar, most celebrating the emotional and spiritual ties we have to country music. If you decide to pay a visit, you’ll undoubtedly find a few new friends and something worth listenin’ to, so don those boots and faded jeans and get on out to this little place with a big reputation.
Sidebar of Related Information
The Road Goes on Forever and the Party Never Ends
There’s always something goin’ on in Luckenbach. Bein’ as it’s only a few miles south of Fredericksburg, it’s easy to make a weekend of it. Take a look at the Luckenbach web site to get the most up-to-date information.
- Luckenbach’s Birthday Celebration — Memorial Day weekend, May 27th to 30th — Featuring performances from some of the best live musicians anywhere. Two-time Hill Country Entertainer of the Year Thomas Michael Riley will perform a tribute to Don Williams. Other performances include Billy Joe Shaver, Chris Berardo & DesBerardos, and Stephanie Urbina Jones.
- Luckenbach’s Legendary Picker Circle — This ongoing event provides aspiring musicians a chance to share the stage with some music legends. Come on out and bring your instrument. Rain or shine, you’ll find folks playing under the old oak trees, or huddled around the pot-bellied stove (if the weather’s disagreeable). Check the Luckenbach web site to find out who will be hosting and playing. Some of the regular pickers include Ben Beckendorf, Dale Mayfield, Bill Lewis, Jimmy Lee Jones, T & C Miller, Sol Patch and Jake Martin.
- Waylon’s Birthday Bash — June 19th — The annual birthday celebration for the man that gave Luckenbach worldwide fame.
- Fourth of July Celebration — This big annual party has become a Hill Country tradition, and includes plenty of music, fun, beer and remembrance. Check the Luckenbach website for more details as the date approaches.