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Nashville + Austin Converge on Willie Nelson’s Luck Ranch

But one thing that the Nelson family and festival organizers execute flawlessly is promoting the spirit of the Nelsons.

For the eighth year, Willie Nelson and his family hosted the Luck Reunion on their ranch in Spicewood, Texas, located about 40 minutes west of Austin. A Western-style “town” was built on the ranch nearly 40 years ago which was used as the set to Nelson’s 1946 film Red Headed Stranger. There’s a post office and a chapel that sit among the six stages. This year, a new stage popped up, The Source Presents: The Mavis Staples “Stronger” Stage. Staples actually headlined the stage.

It acts as bit of a complement to South by Southwest, or perhaps a respite to the Austin festival’s hustle and bustle. Acts this year included familiar faces from Austin (Shakey Graves, Hayes Carll, Bonnie Bishop), others more familiar to the Nashville community (Nathaniel Rateliff, Chris Shiflett, Langhorne Slim) and those with Texas roots that spent a little time between both music communities (the Nelsons, Steve Earle).

Festival organizers are extremely guarded with the day’s schedule, a move they hope encourages attendees to explore the grounds carefree. They hope attendees happen upon new and interesting music that they would otherwise miss confined to the set times that actually do exist. Some of the stages on site had extremely limited space like the chapel stage (capacity approximately 100). That was actually the highlight of the day and a spot where Single Lock Records from Florence, Alabama shone brightest.

The label’s day began with a lot of new music from Dylan LeBlanc. No longer simply backed by The Pollies on tour, the 29-year-old just released a single from his forthcoming album. He promises a much edgier rock sound for his first effort since 2016’s Cautionary Tale and if the performance was any indication, the band will deliver. It was pleasantly aggressive, and the contrast of what the band displayed against the chapel’s quaint and naturally spiritual vibe was something that continued through the set of Nicole Atkins and Jim Sclavunos, also on Single Lock. The duo finished their set with a cover of Patti Smith’s “Pissing in a River” in which Atkins channeled Smith’s angst, heading into the chapel pews and shouting to the heavens, “Come come come…”

Cedric Burnside from Holly Springs, Mississippi closed the day on the chapel stage for Single Lock, fresh off his Grammy nomination for Best Traditional Blues Album. Burnside is the grandson of the late R.L. Burnside and if there is currently an heir to the genre’s throne, no one seems more capable to take it. The 40-year-old is creating authentic North Mississippi hill country blues unlike anyone else in his generation. With that nomination and Single Lock’s support, he’s slowly beginning to reach new audiences unaware that kind of authenticity still exists.

Other highlights included Low Cut Connie, Carll and Langhorne Slim. They made the Revival Tent Stage feel like just that, while Staples offered her own unique religion to the congregation at the stage that bore her name. My most pleasant discovery of the day came from Staples’s stage from the music of Angie McMahon, an Australian singer-songwriter.

The night closed at the World Headquarters Stage, or the main stage, with Paul Nelson and Jesse Dayton, Particle Kid (Micah Nelson), Lukas Nelson and Promise of the Real and Willie Nelson and Family mostly unopposed by music on other stages. Lukas spent much of the set backing his father, who worked his way through most all of the familiar hits (“On the Road Again,” “Always on My Mind” and the opening number, “Whiskey River”).

It’s Texas so no one can legally purchase Willie’s Reserve, though there were plenty of opportunities to purchase mementos of his famous marijuana strain. But one thing that the Nelson family and festival organizers execute flawlessly is promoting the spirit of the Nelsons. Lucky for us, no one is a hurry at Luck. That’s by design. Enjoy the escape from Austin.

Willie Nelson Luck Ranch
Brooke Hamilton
Willie Nelson Luck Ranch
Brooke Hamilton
Willie Nelson Luck Ranch
Brooke Hamilton
Willie Nelson Luck Ranch
Brooke Hamilton
Willie Nelson Luck Ranch
Brooke Hamilton
Willie Nelson Luck Ranch
Brooke Hamilton
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