Caroline Clemmons here, in for Ashley Kath-Bilsky, who is feelin' a mite poorly lately. Poor cowgirl has been run through every test the doc can think of, so she's hiding' out at the ranch.
Where "Everybody is Somebody"
In December 2002, Texas Monthly listed the town of Luckenbach in the "Top 25 Unusual Treasures of Texas." Unusual is an apt description! How many towns are sold intact?
My first introduction to Luckenbach, Texas was the song by Waylon Jennings. I’d also seen various people wearing tee-shirts with the logo “Everybody is Somebody in Luckenbach.” Was it a joke or did such a place exist?
On one of our rambling vacations, my husband and I drove through Luckenbach. I was a bit disappointed..There wasn't a lot to see the day we drove through in midweek. That was before I knew the near-ghost-town’s history and musical impact.
Luckenbach is a scenic community in southeastern Gillespie County with strong musical associations. The site was settled in the late 1840s and early 1850s by German farmers, among them the brothers Jacob Luckenbach and August Luckenbach. Jacob was a veteran of the Texas Revolution. The pleasant setting is a mixture of caliche hills and bottomlands on Grape Creek, a tributary of the Pedernales River. (As an aside, I will tell you that Pedernales was spelled incorrectly by the surveyor and is really pronounced pur-den-al-les by Texans.)
Its oldest building is a combination general store and saloon reputedly opened in 1849 by Minna Engel, whose father was an itinerant preacher from Germany. The community, first named Grape Creek, was later named after Minna's husband, Carl Albert Luckenbach, who was then her fiancé. (They later moved to another town which became Albert, Texas.)
Luckenbach was first established as a community trading post and was one of the few that never broke a peace treaty with the Comanche Indians, with whom they traded. That fact alone should make it a major landmark, shouldn’t it?
Painting by George Catlin
Citizens of the town claimed their schoolmaster, Jacob Brodbeck, had launched the first airplane in 1865, years before the Wright Brothers. His experiment failed when his plane crashed. (Brodbeck is a subject for another post.)
|Jacob Brodbeck, airplane inventor and schoolmaster
Luckenbach’s population increased to a high of 492 in 1904. By the 1960s, Luckenbach was almost a ghost town.
An ad in the paper offering "town — pop. 3 — for sale" led John Russell “Hondo” Crouch, rancher and Texas folklorist, to buy Luckenbach for $30,000 in 1970, in partnership with Kathy Morgan and actor Guich Koock. (One report said the sale included several hundred acres of ranchland, and another stated only ten acres.) Styling himself the "mayor" and "Clown Prince of Luckenbach," Crouch, a former swimming champion, actor, and columnist, declared Luckenbach "a free state...of mind" and successfully turned the small community into a foil of the nearby "Texas White House"—Lyndon Johnson's place down the Pedernales at the LBJ Ranch. Frequent festivals—including an annual Mud Daubers' Day, an annual Hug-In, a women's chili cook-off, the Luckenbach Great World's Fair, and the Non-Buy Centennial Celebration (a move to protest the commercialization of the U.S. Bicentennial in 1976), brought tens of thousands of people to the pastoral setting.
Luckenbach's association with country music began in the summer of 1973, when Jerry Jeff Walker, backed by the Lost Gonzo Band, recorded a live album there called “Viva Terlingua” at Luckenbach Dancehall. That album became an outlaw country classic.
Four years later (and a year after Crouch's death), Waylon Jennings and Willie Nelson memorialized Luckenbach with the song "Luckenbach, Texas (Back to the Basics of Love)," cowritten by rock and soul producer Chips Moman and keyboardist Bobby Emmons. Country Rock artists Kenny Chesney and Kid Rock later covered the Jennings/Nelson song as a duet. It's also been recorded by musician/actor Christian Kane.
|Willie Nelson, singer, songwriter, musician
A Texas treasure
Luckenbach was the site of Willie Nelson's Fourth of July Picnic from 1995 through 1999. Other notable concert appearances in the town have included Pat Green, Robert Earl Keen, and Lyle Lovett. The little community is still an active home to country music where folks gather by the score to listen to area musicians and drink cold beer.
"Pickin' for the Record" was a fundraiser held in Luckenbach on August 23, 2009, for the organization, Voices of a Grateful Nation (honoring veterans). A Guinness Book of World Record was broken for the most guitar players gathered at one time to play (continuously, at least 5 minutes.) The Luckenbach record broke the standing German record by fifty, with the official count at 1868.
The dance hall continues to be a popular gathering place for area and visiting musicians. There's also an outdoor stage Luckenbach hosts a wide range of visitors each weekend, including bikers, bankers and everyone in between, with a separate area for motorcycle parking and car parking, usually in the grass. On Sundays, it is common for people to bring instruments and those in the crowd entertain each other, taking turns performing under the trees just outside the bar. There is a wide variety of Luckenbach-related shirts, bumper stickers and other novelties. No hard liquor is allowed, and no law enforcement is necessary as the crowd tends to self-police.
There are RV camping spots, and a small creek that runs nearby where the signs state "No Swimming Allowed". The sign makes a nice place to hang beach towels.Areas are set up for pitching washers, which must be similar to horseshoes. Occasionally, local and regional celebrities drop by on a Sunday, as this is the most relaxed day to visit and there is no charge to visit. Souvenirs are available at the general store and include postcards, t-shirts, sarcastic and humorous signs, and the local newspaper, the 8-page monthly Luckenbach Moon.
|Guich Koock and Gabe Kaplan
stars of sit-com "Lewis and Clark"
As I mentioned above, it's still all about the music. Hopeful artists travel across the U.S. to play their new song at the dance hall. On any night of the week, you can find musicians sitting around pickin' and grinnin' and singin'. It's said that you can't get any more laid back than Luckenbach unless you're unconscious. In a time when people are obsessed with social status, income, and the trappings of so-called success, Luckenbah is a virtual tranquilzer.
Although most road signs directing travelers to Luckenbach have been stolen as souvenirs, the determined visitor still can find the historic hamlet just a few miles east of Fredericksburg, on Farm Road 1376 south of U.S. 290.
KICK'N' BACK IN TEXAS, Armchair Reader