Few places can hit the jukebox button in your brain like Luckenbach, the tiniest dot on the Texas map made famous by Waylon Jennings and Willie Nelson singing its praises in 1977. Chances are that once you hear the opening strains, Waylon and Willie and the boys will have taken up permanent residence in your head until another song comes along to boot them out.
There's something about this miniscule Texas town (pop. 1) that stays with you even longer than the tune, and the regulars are hard pressed to come up with anything other than the word "magic." Cynics might claim it's a marketing marvel -- a congruence of people, place, and opportunity that turned into a literal treasure for entrepreneurial types -- while other say hogwash: Luckenbach is every bit as unpretentious as it seems.
Back to the basics
Located on ten acres about ten miles southeast from the Hill Country town of Fredericksburg, Luckenbach was established as a trading post by German immigrants in 1849. It grew into a post office, general store, dance hall, blacksmith and school, and was actually quite the hotspot of Gillespie County until it began to deteriorate sometime around mid-twentieth century. Local cowboy, folklorist, and reporter Hondo Crouch bought the town in 1970 with a couple of business partners, saving it from ruin. The tiny hamlet became a big draw for country western music enthusiasts, bikers, musicians, nature lovers, and anybody looking to -- as the song says -- get back to the basics. In Luckenbach, that means beer, food, and the biggest draw of all -- the music.
'Like an addiction'
"We have live music here every day but Christmas," says Virgil Holdman, whose business card says simply, "The Store Guy." He's also head of security and assistant manager of the bar, and claims that Luckenbach is "like an addiction. When you come here, you keep coming back."
Pictures of the countless weddings held under the half-century-old cypress tree dot the walls of the store chock-full of coffee mugs, wine glasses, metal signs, bandanas, and of course their best selling T-shirts ("Everybody's Somebody in Luckenbach"). On the grounds, in the bar, or anywhere there are chairs and guitars, jam sessions are a given, where local pickers play and sing for audiences of everyone from bankers to bikers. The monthly dances at the historic dance hall feature regional and national talent.
Every year, thousands of music fans trek to the town's legendary festivals celebrating everything from the Mud Daubers' return in the spring, to the Texas Hat Festival, to the Ladies Chili Cookoff.
"The people here are wonderful," says Jimmy Lee Jones, who tended bar from 1992 to 2002 and left to pursue a music career, touring with Willie Nelson, Merle Haggard, Ray Price and others. He stays closer to home now, but still plays Austin, Fort Worth, Conroe, and Luckenbach, which he describes as "magical. It's a place you can go and leave your worries behind. Everybody plays together and everyone has a good time."
Holdman agrees. "It's a lot of fun. It you love people this is a good place to love them at. All walks of life sit together here. It makes for a small world."
It doesn't get any smaller. So kick back, relax, listen to the pickers and some homespun poetry. Take a swig from an icy longneck, tuck into some barbecue, pick up some kitschy souvenirs, and before you know it, ain't nobody feeling no pain.
For more information, go to www.luckenbachtexas.com