Willie Nelson throws a party at SWSX

Words & Images by: Bryan Lasky

Luck Reunion :: 03.14.19
Luck, Texas Ranch :: Luck, TXThe first thing you see upon arriving at Luck Ranch is a bunch of horses running about and you get a feeling that you’ve landed someplace special. You’re on hallowed ground to see a festival on a movie set, and the lineup is loaded from top to bottom. You can sense the good vibes surrounding it all. For the 2019 Luck Reunion, everything went pretty much to plan.some last minute set up while festival-goers started entering the venue, and the traffic jam leaving the festival were the only things I saw that someone could say weren’t perfect. Luck Reunion is a festival that has everything down to a tee.

The festival grounds are quite small, make it possible to walk from one end to the other in less than 10 minutes. The first building you come to is the chapel, the smallest stage that had a line outside the entire day as only about 60 people, out of roughly 2,000 attendees, are allowed in at one time. There were people, sometimes four rows deep, watching from outside through the chapel windows. Guitarist Billy Strings was early on the schedule and wowed the crowd, as he’s been doing everywhere with his equally skillful band. Later, J.S. Ondara‘s voice echoed through the room to the point she almost didn’t a microphone, while Cedric Burnside closed the chapel down with guitar playing that could certainly be called fast and furious.

There were plenty of drinks from vendors, merchandise from the festival as well as the artists, local businesses, and food trucks for all your hunger needs. Of course, Willie’s Reserve cannabis was on site, which was in the movie set jail, and while you couldn’t try it, you could learn about it. Gibson had a station where you could try a bunch of different guitars and it was great to see kids at the festival trying out the instruments. The set also presented tributes to many musicians who have passed away with their pictures adorned with flowers and candles. It was beautiful to see tributes to so many amazing musicians across the grounds.

The regular stages had a wide range of music during the day. The Mystery Lights brought some ‘70s big-time rock ‘n’ roll madness, while the were more on the ‘60s rock vibe you might find in a Quentin Tarantino film. Low Cut Connie brought his wild rock show to the tent and blew everyone away. It’s thrilling to watch Adam Weiner work a crowd into a frenzy from the moment the show starts and keep it going until it’s over. There was an all-female stage, anchored by Mavis Staples. The women ranged from Mountain Man‘s amazing harmonies to YOLA‘s soulful overpowering voice and songs to Sunny War‘s slightly jazzy folk rock. Of course, Mavis brought the house, and the sun, down as she closed the stage with an energetic set that ended with “The Weight,” with all of the stage’s performers and Nathaniel Rateliff coming out to assist. The crowd was all in for the living legend from the moment she took the stage.

One thing that stood out as the day wore on was that all the artists were watching one another play and mingling with the crowd. The laid-back family affair feel was strong at Luck. It felt like its own little world, in contrast to the craziness happening nearby at South By Southwest.

Like the other stages, the main stage was musically all over the place. Katie Pruitt, winner of the SXSW contest, began the day and showed off that she has a hell of a voice and a fantastic talent for songwriting. Illuminati Hotties, who stirred their own SXSW buzz, showed it’s well deserved. They put on a non-stop rock show for their set and had the crowd grooving along with them. The Marcus King Band played a solid set that included some of Black Sabbath’s “War Pigs” and the crowd showering King and his band with love after the set. Local guitar slingers Matthew Logan Vasquez and Shakey Graves both put on powerful performances, much to the crowd’s delight.

After 8 p.m., most of the other stages shut down as the Nelson family played sets one after the other. Paula Nelson kicked it off with Jesse Dayton and played a fun set of rocking honky tonk. They were followed by Particle Kid, Micha Nelson’s band, who were rocking more like Crazy Horse and less like Johnny Cash. From there we had who played one of the most laid-back sets I’ve seen them do. That’s not to say they weren’t rocking the stage, but with the quieter songs they played, they showed how versatile they can be.

Finally it was time for the man himself, Willie Nelson to take the stage. He looked and sounded great and you could see how happy he was to play for everyone on his own property. Though there weren’t any surprises in the setlist, there was a buzz throughout Luck Ranch as seeing him at his home felt like being invited to be part of the family, even for one night.

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