LUCKENBACH, Texas - Hondo Crouch owned two Texas goat ranches. The tiny burg of Luckenbach was smack dab in the middle. Every evening when Crouch headed home, he would stop half way in Luckenbach for a cold beer.
But sometimes, the only bar in Luckenbach would be closed. So Crouch did what any red-blooded Texan would do. He and two partners bought the town. That way he could have his own beer joint and get a beer whenever he wanted.
After shelling out $30,000 to buy Luckenbach in 1970, folk humorist Crouch set about creating the world he wanted. That included daily song picking, domino playing and beer drinking beneath the 500-year-old oak trees.
Mirthful diversions in the tiny town sprouted up like dandelions – the Luckenbach World’s Fair, Ladies State Chili Bust, Mud Dauber Festival and huge “Hug-Ins.” With his white hair and beard, his battered cowboy hat, faded jeans stuffed into his boots and red bandanna loosely circling his neck, Hondo would hold court.
He’d do a little philosophizing, story telling, whittling and singing – mostly cowboy and Mexican songs, accompanied by his battered old guitar, never too far from reach.
Then in 1973, Jerry Jeff Walker came looking for a laid-back Texas locate to record a country rock album. Luckenbach fit the bill perfectly.
Stacking hay bales in the old dance hall for sound baffles, Jerry Jeff and his Lost Gonzo Band sat around the ancient saloon during the day writing writing songs. At night, they’d record them. The result, “Viva Terlingua,” was a smash hit.
“Let’s go to Luckenbach Texas with Waylon, Willie and the boys,” the song invited. And that’s exactly what people did.
TINY PIECE OF TEXAS PAST
Tour buses and tourists from around the world poured in. What they found was a tiny Texan piece of the past.
“We are located in the middle of Hill Country and wine country so we’ve always gotten group tours and we welcome them,” said Abbey Road, Luckenbach event manager.
After hearing so much about Luckenbach, Road said, some tourists are slack jawed at what they find - a dance hall, beer joint and general store. Today, the tiny town presents over 300 shows and events a year.
Visitors are welcome to drop by even when there aren’t regular events scheduled. Folks can browse through the store, buy a cold drink in the bar, get a souvenir T-shirt and maybe catch some great music.
They can also learn about the history of the out-of-the-way Hill Country hamlet.
Luckenbach was established as a trading post in 1849. The post- office/general store/saloon was first opened in 1886 by August Engel, an itinerant preacher from Germany. The name was picked by Engel’s daughter, Mimma, in honor of her fiancé, Albert Luckenbach.
The trading post did a brisk business with pioneer farmers and Comanche Indians alike. A steam-powered cotton gin was built on the banks of the Grape Creek in 1879 and went bust in 1929. By 1885, the community boasted a blacksmith shop and a consolidated school.
By 1970, however, Luckenbach had become a ghost town. That’s when retired postmaster Benno Engel decided to sell Luckenbach and Hondo and his partners decided to buy.
The rest is history.
Hondo died of a massive heart attack in 1976. His ashes were scattered over the town he loved. But people still come to Luckenbach. And they still find plenty of things going on.
“We have music every day starting at 1 p.m.,” said Bobbi McDaniel, manager of operations for Luckenbach. “Sometimes in the bar, in the dance hall or outside under our 500-year-old oak tree. Whatever it is, it’s a wonderful experience.”
Last time I was there, the parking log was packed with Harley Davidsons, a big campfire was going and a band was pulling folks out to two-step in the dance hall.
A few kids sat around playing checkers; another young ‘un was sharing his one magic trick with strangers; two honeymooners were picking out T-shirts; and a bartender was selling bottles of Luckenbach beer as fast as he could uncap them.
The folks are friendly, too. When a big bearded guy with a huge Viking horned hat atop his head wandered by, it seemed too good a photo to pass up. Did he mind?
“My pleasure,” the cyclist answered, straightening his strange hat and breaking into a big photo grin.
“We have two mottos that we live by,” said McDaniel. “’Everybody’s Somebody in Luckenbach’ and ‘Making Friends, Making Music, Making Memories.’ I think we’re pretty darned good at both.”
I certainly agree.
For more information about Luckenbach: Call (830) 997-3224 or (888) 311-8990 or go to the website www.LuckenbachTexas.com