You can feel the love and untainted intention behind this cherished annual event.
While thousands of music fans and industry people roamed the streets of Austin on the search for new music and drinking back beers to make the aches of their feet subside, the folks in-the-know drove 45 mins out of town to Willie Nelson’s Luck Ranch for the pinnacle festival within a festival: Luck Reunion.
The seventh annual Luck Reunion produced by Ellee Fletcher, Matt Bizer and Scott Marsh, epitomizes what this scene is all about: enjoying pure country, soul, and Americana music among locals in cowboy clad for a genuine, non-commercialized music experience. An entire day was spent soaking in the organic energy of the crowd and twangs of the music, all which felt very much like home.
“This is paradise,” Caleb Caudle country singer-songwriter described the scene to us backstage of the World Headquarters stage. “This is what heaven is.”
We couldn’t agree more. Surrounded by horses, 3,000 guests explored the grounds in cowboy boots to discover emerging and legendary talent across five stages, one being an intimate chapel and the other being a tucked away stage in a barn to surprise acts equipped with free Tito’s cocktails. Every barn, saloon, and structure seemed like an untouched paradise, which we discovered was with reason – the farm was originally a movie set constructed for the 1986 film version of Nelson’s ‘70s concept album Red Headed Stranger. Needless to say, the stories behind Luck Reunion couldn’t get any richer.
The day offered endless options for guests between discovering new music under tents, easting some of the state’s best cousine curated by The Austin Food & Wine Alliance Corral, shopping vintage scores, or scoring a new tattoo. For the lucky artists, their day was validated with an invite into Willie’s bus to have an exclusive listen to a new track off of his new album Last Man Standingout April 27th as mary jane swirled through the air. Each artist was asked questions about Nelson and the song on camera to become part of Luck Journal. As they put it, it’s a, “love letter to the places and artists that inspire us, and your year-round ticket to the Reunion experience: a trove of never-before-seen footage, artist profiles, backstage content, and more – carefully curated by the crazy, grassroots collective behind it all.”
As the interviews were going on backstage, the front of house was blessed with Texas Gentlemen to kick off the afternoon. As part of their “Gents & Dames” program, the band invited singers Nicole Atkins, Ruby Boots, Lauren Ruth Ward, and Heartless Bastards leader Erika Wennerstrom on stage for some beautiful harmonies. Devon Gilfillian put a smile on our face with his uplifting sound and charm that made it impossible to leave the main stage, crescendoing with the entire band performing on the stage floor.
As the sun was setting, Lukas Nelson had us all under his spell and surprised us as he invited the unlisted Margo Price to join him on stage, who would later play a surprise set on keys in the homey chapel. The best transition between sets was witnessed as Kurt Vile joined Lukas Nelson on stage, then followed with four songs solo on the guitar and harmonica.
The evening exploded with energy as Nathaniel Rateliff danced out on stage to the tunes of The Night Sweats, and ended his set with “S.O.B” with earlier brass performers, Preservation Hall Jazz Band.
Of course, the finale of the day was no other than a performance by Willie Nelson.
“His music’s touched everybody…” Sam Lewis, Nashville-based country and soul artist, expresses his respect for Nelson. “When Myspace was big, I would ponder like, ‘who would have the most friends’, and I always thought Willie Nelson would have the most friends, more than anybody.”
Might sound comical, but Lewis is right. Nelson walked on stage with some of the best friends and family anyone could ask for – the headliners of the evening – Lukas Nelson, Nathaniel Rateliff, Margo Price, Micah Nelson aka Particle Kid (another one of Nelson’s son), Aaron Lee Tasjan, and others. Nelson smiled in approval as each artist took a moment to alternate taking solos while he stood next to his sons in a incomparable live family portrait. History was made.
As “LUCK” shined in electric blue behind Willie and the stage lights illuminated his heartfelt smile, it really it home how lucky we really all are to have experienced this unparalleled music and human experience. It was bittersweet as the 84-year-old Nelson sang “Still Not Dead” with the exuberance of a man in his twenties. It was also enlightening – a reminder that all you need to live a good life is a good country song and a little help and a little high from some friends.
Thank you, Willie.
“The Luck Family is touched and grateful for the unprecedented support we’ve received over the years, and sincerely hope you will join us in our journey to uncover and share the stories and thoughts of the creators who have so deeply influenced us – as fellow music fans and, ultimately, a little group of friends carrying out our barstool vision.”
WORLD HEADQUARTERS STAGE
11:20 Thomas Csorba
12:40 Erika Wennerstrom
2:00 Texas Gentlemen: “Gents & Dames”
3:20 Devon Gilfillian
4:40 Aaron Lee Tasjan
6:00 Particle Kid
6:40 Lukas Nelson & Promise Of The Real
7:20 Kurt Vile
8:40 Nathaniel Rateliff
10:00 Willie Nelson & Family
REVIVAL TENT STAGE
11:00 Song Swap Feat: Kevn Kinney, Caleb Caudle, Sam Lewis, Courtney Marie Andrews
12:10 Buck Meek
1:50 Night Moves
3:00 Cut Worms
4:15 Hop Along
5:35 Ezra Furman
6:55 Preservation Hall Jazz Band
8:15 Hiss Golden Messenger & Phil Cook
9:20 Josh Ritter
11:20 Lilly Hiatt
12:40 Sunny War
2:00 Ray Wylie Hubbard’s Luck Chapel Sessions: John Doe, John Paul White
Kelly Willis, Cody Canada
3:35 Jade Bird
4:55 Michael Nau
6:15 Kevin Morby
7:35 Josh Hedley
8:55 Surprise Guest Set
“BACK TO THE SOURCE” STAGE
11:00 Alta Mesa
12:00 Blank Range
1:20 Liz Cooper & The Stampede
2:40 David Ramirez
4:00 Son Little
5:20 Paul Cauthen
9:20 Nikki Lane