Luck Reunion – Luck, Texas
March 14, 2019
Review by Stacey Lovett
Just outside of Austin lies a special little place called Luck, Texas.
And once a year an equally special day-festival takes place there – a product of visionaries, a dream of minds as magic as those who blazed the unbeaten path a couple of generations back. The setting harbors the same essence as the once-movie set for Red Headed Stranger in the namesake’s own backyard. It’s a creation unlike any other contemporary and with its genuine nature can never be duplicated.
Luck holds such magic – the spirit of the past, present, & future – of artists, of creators, of makers and dreamers. It continues and celebrates a song of a generation and those born from it, continuing an unorthodox truth of artistry and undeniable soul. The essence of what it means to be an outlaw – a nonconformist – crafting your life by your own terms & experiencing it between the lines that the mainstream writes for us.
For 12 hours, time almost stands still. The old western façade transforms into a lively utopic town where art is celebrated, where love & laughs & drinks flow freely, all built on the foundation of music and the only real rule enforced is no bad vibes, well, and don’t be an asshole which really goes hand in hand. Its almost impossible to have a bad time though – the energy is so thick in the air, the vibrations of the love, of the music, the creation, all woven into the fabric of space over the Pedernales. The poetry is forever ingrained in the terrain and few have had the privilege to experience this sacred flow. Entry to the festival depends on just that – luck – or perhaps fate. If it is your time to draw from these waters the universe brings you here. Meeting people, you hear many first timers and also many special souls who have been in luck and attended since its inception. Nonetheless, all of these energies come together and make it what it continues to be – a very special off the beaten path experience. Just 30 miles northwest of the bustle of SXSW proper in the hurriedness of life, Luck is a place to escape into the quieter bliss of human connection, even if just for a little while, and sometimes that’s all you need.
Six stages scatter the grounds among vendors and artisans alike – including local culinary fare– all sharing their crafted and handmade wears – nothing mass produced – that’s not what it’s about. It’s about the intimacy of the hand meeting the material – whether it be a hat or a song – yet it all touches the heart. With so much happening at once you’re naturally guided to curate your own experience. The best plan of action here, as in life, is to just follow your heart, living out the day to its fullest walking around and stopping to experience whatever resonates with you at that moment. You may not catch a whole set, or be interrupted by an impromptu second line passing through that captures your attention, but its ALL the experience, everything there comes together as one.
I think sometimes when you attend a music festival – especially as a reviewer – you can get caught up in missing out, on not being everywhere experiencing everything at once – because you want to be part of all the magic. But even in the buzz, Luck reminds you that it’s not about that – it’s about celebrating and taking in the overall vibe – the big picture magic. You as an actor in this little faux town set become the supporting role to the real big picture of life. Luck is that transformative.
And with all that being said, I couldn’t be everywhere and actually preferred playing my supportive role, sometimes ducking in and out of the sunny blue skies that smiled down on me and sitting under a shady tree observing the light in all that was around. In this you see another special thing exclusive to Luck – the artists mingle among the guests – the construct of fame is set aside and everyone is one. And it’s a reminder of just that – when they take the stage they do so in a moment of intimacy, not ego, sharing their stories and feelings – perspective to remind us all that we’re the artists of our own lives and we all create together. While there were many artists I would have loved to catch, perhaps my own perspective was skewed for those who captured me to stay a watch a little longer did what they came to do – this was the picture I was supposed to watch being painted, even if just for a song or two. And the artistry – like every year – was strong and provided perhaps a broader viewpoint with a few artists sharing their lives from abroad.
Yola was the first to reign my attention in (granted I was running a little late fighting south-by traffic, but again, meant to be) – she’s a powerful female force hailing from the UK, manifesting all her life’s hurdles into her art stateside and just having released her debut (Dan Auerbach produced) album. She proves she owns every bit of her power onstage and rules with love. She sings an uplifting truth with her soul soaked country crooning, unafraid of life and imparting her own wisdom on looking past the negative in life. As someone who sings survival – and does it well – she is undoubtedly an artist to watch. And as a strong woman who isn’t afraid to walk through fire then sing about it – who still sees the higher love that drives it all – she’s also undoubtedly a force to pave the way.
And love was overtly present as the theme of the day as well as what is resurfacing in this batch of upcoming artists – a resurgence of what was a prevalent theme in music four decades ago but now with 40 years of growth behind it. As floral garlands and altars of remembrance to musical legends decorated the corners they served as reminders of the foundations who’s memory should not falter for they offered up their love to sustain ours and we must live on, feel on, create on to enshrine it for the future. It’s more than an homage, its an offering back to the spirit of humanity, surrounded by the next generation to breed legends in the little temporary town built by one of country’s own. Luck is that powerful.
And love was given in many degrees. Some preached it, some stood in reverence of being given it, and all gave it back in some form.
Sarah Tuadain of indie pop Illuminati Hotties paused in her set to look around and take it all in then give it right back in her set. As a self-proclaimed ‘tenderpunk pioneer’ she illuminated that momentum onstage as the second artist to kick off the World Headquarters stage behind the Southwest Airlines’ Artist on the Rise Katie Pruitt.
Texan bred Americana artist Thomas Csorba sang his own state of the union onstage proclaiming “kindness will get us there” and though part of this young power artist phenomenon, it’s undoubtedly clear he’s also bred from and well-read in the great American songbook. A revivalist of folk-country songwriting his waves of observing introspection and forming that into life is written from an old soul. And while perceived as somewhat ‘green’ in his career his work shown on stage proves true gold.
Angie McMahon added her international flair from the land down under and while she spoke with a rather meek demeanor, a much more powerful one hidden beneath came out in her songs. Also harboring a folk revivalist sound, she breathes a similar female power that Joni Mitchell and Florence Welch do – a somber strength reminiscent of the emergence of an earlier voice dedicated to life today.
If you’re searching for a good dose of 70s southern country infused funk-blues -rock with some Dallas (area) slapped on it then Quaker City Night Hawks most definitely has it. While these boys connect with Ft. Worth specifically, their sound draws a lot from the Deep Ellum rock scene and a lot of other eclectic Texas roots sounds. Their zeitgeist in the Revival Tent drew as eclectic a crowd of all ages and scenes packed in for their entire set which featured tunes off of their newly released album, QCNH. With the counterculture revival bubbling up in the DFW area, the Night Hawks bore the black gold and refined it into their own grimy Americana sound. It comes together as a refreshing cross-generic view of psychedelic funk viewed through amber tinted glasses – and the view from the outside rocked too.
At Luck, whenever you step away from anyone stage there are strings of music and conversation woven through the air. The nondescript words backed by floating notes in the hill country breeze duck in and out of earshot yet compose a unity of joy and celebrate the human experience. Sometimes the cacophony is as beautiful as the single song. That’s why Luck is amazing.
Down the way from the Revival stage was a confessional – one by the Carolina powerhouse Marcus King. An immense talent of only 22 years and his age is worth noting when you hear the level of material he’s released in the last four. I’ve loved these guys since Soul Insight because their music is derived from just that. He’s real and he’s real good. Bred from authenticity from a musical family and that spirit the south lends to its musical roots. It’s a resilient sound, as truth often is, and King sings it with pure heart backed by an equal authority of solid musicianship onstage. It’s hard to claim he’s gotten better with time as he has held his stride straight out the gate. With his latest – Carolina Confessions – he maintains the essence of his signature sound but refines his feelings to his life. As this brilliance matures there’s no doubt he’ll pour his soul into volumes more of perfection.
Back in the Revival Tent, Low Cut Connie put on their signature high energy show and if you were to liken it to any actual religious revival there would definitely be snake handling and the spirit of Jerry Lee Lewis would show up in the mix, even with him living – it was that wild. Known for feeling out the audience and performing to their vibe frontman Alex Weiner fed off the energy of the crowd packed in under the tent and overflowing to catch part of the sensation. As Luck veterans their invitation stood to bring the party to the party and that they did.
Langhorn Slim and the Law followed in the Revival. While he also brought some energy and interaction jumping over barriers and testing the mic cord’s length bobbing and weaving within the crowd, he also preached the power of vulnerability & sensitivity and a deeper connection within ourselves and towards others – to be ‘tough enough to run with the bulls but too gentle to live among the wolves.’
Nathaniel Rateliff played the much-coveted chapel stage – an intimate four pew one-room sanctuary that always produces a line twice the building’s length to catch a show. Rateliff may have held one of the records of the day for the number of hours people held a place in that line to see him. Those who didn’t make it in gathered and strained to hear through the old church windows. Just as you can’t always be everywhere or even half the places you want at once, sometimes you can’t even be inside the ones you make but people adapt knowing they’re still in Luck and Luck will be in them. Those unplanned perspectives, those random nonspecific vibes and sounds caught continue to have their own destinations in the mind, for its not the fame we seek, it’s the experience.
All is welcome at Luck, even genre-bending. Foo Fighter’s Chris Shiflett presented his alt-country project to fans in the Saloon and the celebration of his roots is nothing but good vibrations. Our mainstream society can be rather complacent in thought about change and often it’s not received with the depth it’s due simply because of that boundary. Not to link this directly with Shiflett’s set, this wasn’t the reception felt, but the fact that openmindedness of musicians and listeners is so welcomed here – welcomed with curiosity and admiration of music for music’s sake is a big statement. This is a modern-day outlaw – not conforming to anything but your vision, not overproducing or overmarketing, of finding that balance of soul and putting yourself – your true self – out to the world. That’s why Luck in important.
As the sun sets over this special gathering, the smaller stages wrap up ushering the crowd over towards the World Headquarters to catch the closing acts. On the way over I caught the last half of legendary soul gospel queen Mavis Staples and I’m glad I did. Not only does she openly defy any negative boundaries placed upon her but apparently age as well, and neither held her back as it shouldn’t. Strength and empowerment is the gospel of her set and is standalone outstanding to feel, however, if that could be amplified – it was. All of the ladies who shared that stage earlier in the day came up for a powerfully moving, absolutely EPIC rendition of “The Weight” – one that could not even be close to being aptly described, one that channeled the power of Aretha’s version, one that you were thankful to experience and one that brought both tears and goosebumps along with it. It was incredible, to say the least. True gospel. And the power of music and that song, in particular, served a forceful reminder to today’s world to keep and rely on your spirit in the fight for social justice, something our society has strayed from since the early movement and may, in turn, require more than a gentle reminder. Staples proves power doesn’t have to be harsh, you can have a loving firmness to your voice and promote unity – she does so through the spirit of song, and with eight decades of rehearsal she attuned the next generation to carry it forth. And we all owe her a debt of gratitude. All Hail Mavis.
The diverse talents of the host family take the stage and finish out the night every year at Luck. A sort of Texas-sized convocation of love and song before they turn out the lights and the party’s over. But with this love all good things don’t end – the experience lives with you, it reforms you and that’s why Luck is so special. Everyone becomes a member of the Luck family, of that history, and the Nelsons play to remind us of those roots. Paula, Micah, and Lucas each performed their own set leading up to Willie taking center stage alongside his family. Chances are as a Texan, especially around Austin, you’ve caught one or more of these acts before and their talent is tried and true. You know what to expect and that consistency brings you back with both the music and the experience. To experience a legacy and the offshoots of it is special but to do so on their turf adds a certain element of warmth – the feel of a private concert but in the company of a couple of thousand other people, the honorary family who have shared and bonded over what all the day brought. And while this number seems higher than what an intimate show would bring, its that element of unity, the connection, the ceremony behind it all that makes hearing, feeling, being it all against this backdrop a little different -special.
Perhaps Luck is meant to represent what it does for each person – a view of what impacts their soul – an annual mecca to organic love and peace and unity in art – something to compose your own soulshine whether in a note or a whole verse. Maybe you got your cards read that day, maybe you took home a new custom hat, maybe it was the overall experience that you’ll value most, however Luck touched you it was also with love and with one more year of this special little festival in the books, those behind and in it spread it a little more. That’s why I love Luck.