Sunday, December 30, 2012


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.

Luckenbach, Texas
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?

Comanche family
Painting by George Catlin
A dance hall, a cotton gin, and a blacksmith shop were in existence by the late 1800s. A number of family cemeteries and a Catholic cemetery were also established. The growing population supported a primary school and a Methodist church. Residents in addition to Methodists included in roughly equal numbers Lutherans and Catholics. Many Hispanic families resided in the area and their names joined German and other anglo names on the petition to establish Gillespie County.

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"
Luckenbach was the setting for the short lived sit-com “Lewis and Clark,” which co-starred town co-owner Guich Koock and Gabe Kaplan. What? Sorry, I can't get my mind around Gabe Kaplan in Luckenbach. I'm determined to search out an episode of the show.

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


  1. Well now I know! All I knew of Luckenbach was the song. Thanks, Caroline!

  2. Wonderful post, Caroline. I've never been to Luchenbach or knew of its history. So, thanks and thank you very much for filling in for me today. :)

  3. Great post, Caroline! I enjoyed learning about Luchenbach. BTW,I was surprised to learn that Gabe Kaplan is now a professional poker gambler--see him all the time on those televised poker tournaments.

  4. Caroline--this is a great piece. The town has a wonderful bit of folklore about it, enough to make it very enticing. Of course, there's such little there now, it only comes alive when there are musicians on the site. The old dancehall--windows all around, with wooden shutters that raise, and the openings are covered with screen--is a fun place to dance. Our square dance club--when I did such a thing--went there one time and danced in full regalia.Sure, we had a ball, but let me tell you, it was hot.
    As a side note--Lukenbach was advertised in the paper, as you said, but Albert, recent years...was sold on eBay. True.
    My newest release (originally Showdown in Southfork with TWRP)will be Rodeo Man. It's set in a town like Albert, and when Marla arrives (she inherits the town)--Cody Matheson sits on the porch and claims the town belongs to him--"bought it on eBay," he tells her.
    When I submitted this to TWRP, the editor said that was ridiculous and said I should think of another way he could claim the town.
    I had a back and forth argument with her, trying to explain a town in Texas actually was sold on eBay. She was from NJ, or somewhere. Anyway, she finally believed me and I got to keep that in the story!
    "Let's go to Lukenbach,Texas, with Willie and Waylon and the Boys..." Now, I'm singing the song in my head.

  5. Caroline, I visited Luchenbach a few years ago and can't say I was very impressed. But the town certainly has a fascinating history. Thanks for sharing!


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