By S. Pulse
Symbolic of the past few years, the dark morning clouds eventually cleared by late afternoon, leaving “nothin but blue skies” overhead at Luck Reunion music festival. Returning for the first time since 2019, the Reunion, held on Willie Nelson’s ranch just outside Austin, is known for its small-scale, intimate anti-fest approach.
Visitors arrived by driving up a dusty dirt road that winds through Willie’s rescue horse area and that leads to an old west town. Originally constructed as the set for the film “Red Headed Stranger,” the town of Luck houses 5 unique stages consisting of the tiny, simple Chapel Stage (seats less than 40), the country bar-themed Saloon Stage, an old time Revival Tent stage, a Beer Garden stage, and the Main Stage
Entering its 10th year, the reunion has managed to maintain its charm while adding to its ambiance with conveniences like shuttles from Austin and a camping option. Luck Potluck, held on the eve of the event, was open to the public featured a farm-to-market meal prepared by celebrity chefs (including Duff Goldman) and benefited Farm Aid.
As gates opened, both artists and concert goers seemed glad to be back. Following the live performance void of the pandemic, this year’s reunion boasted a powerful sense of community. Artists were seen walking the grounds and catching the sets of fellow musicians. Neal Francis sat stage-side in awe of Allison Russell. Surprise guest, Jason Isbell, started his set with praise for Japanese Breakfast. Singer songwriter Abby Hamilton swayed in the crowd while watching S.G. Goodman’s performance. And the guests, abiding by the one rule of Luck, “don’t be an asshole,” gave space to the artists to roam freely amongst the crowd and soak up that weed-laden ranch air that has become a hallmark at Luck.
This year’s Luck line-up included a broader scope of musicians than past years, expanding to new genres under its umbrella. Long-time punk-garage band the Black Lips performed a raucous set on the Saloon Stage, funk-infused Neal Francis ignited the Revival Stage tent into a dancing frenzy, and indie favorite Japanese Breakfast rocked the Main Stage.
Curators of the fest are also phenomenal at identifying artists on the verge of widespread popularity. Former district attorney turned singer-songwriter, Danielle Ponder, wowed the audience with her powerful voice and inspiring lyrics. Rising star, Adia Victoria, delivered a commanding set of her gothic-indie-blues in the sanctum of the intimate Chapel Stage. Newcomers and self-described “Appalachian soul” artists, 49 Winchester, left listeners intrigued by raspy lead singer Isaac Gibson’s remarkable voice. The line-up also included industry veterans like Michael Martin Murphey with The Lost Gonzo Band, Chuck Prophet, and Lucero. Notwithstanding their different musical leanings or duration in the business, these performers all took away the shared experience of performing at the Luck Reunion and, as is customary, each artist received a coveted Luck ring.
Collaborations have always been a tradition at Luck and this year did not disappoint. Fans were stunned when Willie Nelson made an unexpected appearance on stage during power-vocalist Tami Neilson’s early day set. Together they performed a duet of the haunting and beautiful ballad “Beyond the Stars.” When Willie sang the lyrics “I can hear the guitars and they are calling me up to be with thee,” thoughts turned to Willie’s recent loss of his sister, the legendary Bobbie Nelson, who also served as his long-time piano player. Not only was Nielson moved to tears during the song, so were many of the guests. Hours later, Nielsen said that she was still in shock that Willie had joined her commenting she “can’t believe it actually happened.” Other collaborations included Lukas Nelson joining family friend and talented singer, Lily Meola, during her set. And, in keeping with tradition, Willie Nelson and family (including sons Lukas and Micah, aka “Particle Kid”) closed out the show ending their set with an artist-filled (Isbell, Meola, etc.) stage sing-along performance of hymns “Will the Circle Be Unbroken” and “I’ll Fly Away.”
While another Luck Reunion may be in the books, fans will have more opportunities to enjoy this unique venue as more shows will be added year-round. Willie Nelson, Jason Isbell, and Shakey Graves each performed solo shows on the evenings immediately following the Reunion. In addition, Willie Nelson will play his home venue again on March 20th and March 26th. Rockers Modest Mouse will perform at Luck on April 29th. There’s also Willie Nelson’s Birthday Celebration scheduled for May 1st. For tickets, visit luckpresents.com.