Lucky locals head to Willie Nelson’s Texas ranch for Luck Reunion, an intimate musical experience
by Lorne Chambers | Editor
The mission of the West Of Free Press has always been to keep the focus on the area west of the Ashley River. Technically, Austin, Texas fits that bill. So when the chance to be a guest at Willie Nelson’s ranch arose, sure I might have expanded our “coverage area” just a tad for this rare opportunity. Dubbed Luck Ranch, Willie’s property is located about 30 miles northwest of Austin and about 1,250 miles southwest of West Ashley. However, it’s a world away from anything I’ve ever experienced at music festival.
For one, it’s held on Nelson’s personal ranch, where an entire Wild West town, which was the set of the 1986 movie Red Headed Stranger, still stands. The chapel served as an intimate music venue, the saloon also served as a stage and was where Austin’s own Tito’s vodka was served, the general store was the VIP section, and another storefront sold T-shirts and other legal merch (it’s still Texas) from Nelson’s budding marijuana business Willie’s Reserve.
Held during Austin’s South-By-Southwest Festival, the sixth annual Luck Reunion took place on Thursday, March 14 and included an impressive mix of established artists, such as Willie Nelson, Steve Earl & the Dukes, Mavis Staples of the Staples Sisters, Hayes Carl, Nathaniel Rateliff, Cedric Burnside, Langhorne Slim, Chris Shiflett of The Foo Fighters, and Shaky Graves. It also included some serious up-and-coming talent, such as Southwest’s 2019 Artist on the Rise Katie Pruitt, as well as other rising stars, such as Jude Jackson, Sunny War, Thomas Csorba, and a show-stopping set from Yola, one of my favorite performances of the day and definitely an artist you will be hearing more from.
Luck Reunion is also a family reunion of sorts, with Nelson’s daughter Paula performing as well as his son Micah’s band Particle Kid. Willie’s sister Bobbie Lee is his longtime piano player, while son Lukas is emerging as a full-blown star in his own right along with his band Lukas Nelson & Promise of the Real. All performed at the 2019 Luck Reunion, which has become one of the most coveted tickets of the year among music lovers.
With the number of attendees capped at only 2,000 this year, organizers did a superb job in making the experience as immersive as possible for those lucky enough to have found a way into Luck. I personally felt extremely lucky to be counted among those who were chosen to cover the event as a member of the press, along with my wife Lindsey. However, we weren’t the only locals who headed west for the event. While in line at the saloon, we met fellow West Ashley resident and music lover Rebecka Schafer, who got her hands on an elusive ticket to the Luck Reunion and headed to Austin to see what it was all about.
“Willie Nelson is a legend. I’m constantly amazed at all he does at his age for the community, his family, and on a political stand. I knew about Luck Reunion for about a year prior to the event and scored some tickets during a small batch release in October,” said Schafer, a local physical therapist. “I knew I had to take advantage of this event with the uncertainty of it’s future as Willie ages.”
In a day full of highlights Schafer said there were several moments that stand out for her. “A teary-eyed Nathaniel Rateliff playing some unrecorded songs in the chapel was the most raw performance I’ve ever witnessed,” she said. “I could feel the jealousy of those standing outside the Chapel windows.”
She also said watching South Carolina native Marcus King play tribute to fellow South Carolinians Marshall Tucker Band with a solid cover of Can’t You See was a special moment. “He can crush some guitar and his hat game is strong,” said Schafer, who wasn’t the only Charlestonian we bumped into at Luck. We also ran into Folly Beach resident and former Triangle Char & Bar bartender Jessica Murphy while there. Her brother’s band Daddy Long Legs out of New York City performed.
“Luck reunion embodies everything a music festival should be about. So much raw talent and love combined with the Wild West backdrop Willie created makes for a truly magical experience,” said Murphy. “Willie Nelson still throws the best party at SXSW! Luck Reunion brings together new artists and veterans like Mavis Staples who sent chills down my spine. Seeing Willie Nelson perform with his sons on his home stage really made you feel like you were a part of the Luck family. The entire Luck Reunion was one of the best musical experiences of my life.”
This feeling of being part of the family wasn’t just something that Murphy felt. Schafer, who had a chance to attend a pre-show dinner the night before, said the exact same thing. “The Pot-Luck Dinner was such a treat the night before the big event. The five-course dinner made by some of the top female chefs in Austin and a show with a mere 200 people was an intimate experience with those raising money for Farm Aid. Willie played a classic set on the main stage after dessert that made me feel as though I was one of the family,” she said.
Another highlight for Schafer was just meeting new people who share the same passion for music as her, including folks from her hometown. “The more I travel the more I realize that Charleston folks are really cool people,” she said after returning home to West Ashley. “For there to be four of us out of 2,000 at the show just speaks volumes about the respect for good music and a good time … no matter how far we have to travel to find it.”