By Laura Ord
All the highlights from another unique experience at Willie Nelson's luck ranch in Spicewood, Texas.
If there has ever been a place I have naturally felt at home, it’s Texas’ hill country.
Driving with the windows down, listening to ZZ Top, it’s March but it’s chilly - uncharacteristic for Texas. One hand on the steering wheel, the other sailing through the crisp air. Rise, dip, rise, dip, like a chest during a deep sleep. Much like the hills themselves.
My destination? Willie Nelson's Luck Ranch. A reuniting I’ve waited what feels like millennia for. The familiar pulse of energy in the air.
Snug in the hills of Spicewood, about an hour outside of Austin, Luck is a respite from the chaos of SXSW. A haven for the weary and a celebration of tradition. An amalgamation of arts - this year boasted live painting, on-site screen printing, hand-crafted hats and, of course, music.
The Reunion is a diverse and welcoming place. The lineup is becoming more inclusive each year with the addition of even more women and artists of color. The crowd is the same kind of melting pot, with people coming from all over to spend the day at the ranch. It makes sense for a festival whose family values are "1. Don't be an asshole. 2. Don't be an asshole. 3. Don't be a goddamn asshole.”
There are stages scattered throughout the setup but two rooms remain the most special: the chapel and the saloon. The tiny white chapel gleams against the beautiful pale blue sky, her wooden floors creak and groan with every step, every shift of body weight, like a ship at sea. Those floors act as an additional member of the band, providing a warmth to the music and an additional layer of depth.
Limiting the congregation to a 50-person capacity, the chapel is the most intimate venue I’ve ever visited. The windows open to swarms of faces huddled together, trying to see into the room. As the slightly larger sibling to the chapel, the “Luck Opry House”, or the saloon, holds 150 people at any time, making it the second most intimate venue I have ever visited. With a stage that is likely the size of my storage unit, you’re able to watch some incredible performances from inches away.
This year’s Luck Reunion was not without its drawbacks. The overselling of tickets, dwindling of food options and lack of an appropriate shuttling system for off-site parking notable faults in its running, allowing some of its inherent issues to soak in. Hopefully next year, production will have combatted some of the obstacles faced at this year’s event.
Nevertheless, the festival provided some stand-out moments that we'll cherish for a long time to come.
Katie Pruitt's Stunning Chapel Set
Singer/songwriter Katie Pruitt performed in the chapel - a beautiful and fitting choice for the content of her debut album, Expectations. Pruitt's songs explore trying to fit in and letting go, about coming out to her family and experiencing the kind of love that makes you defy the trappings of “righteousness” imposed by so many.
In such a live setting, her voice - at times a howl and at others a delicate whisper - hangs in the air of the tiny room, settling on your skin to be taken with you into the sunlight, refreshed and anew.
Margo Price's Surprise Main Stage Set
Margo Price performed a golden hour set on the main stage, soaked in sunlight. A natural force, Price is raw and unfettered both in content and performance.
Surprising the crowd by playing with The Band of Heathens, who released their new album Simple Things on the same day, Margo played with a full rock sound befitting of Strays, her own most recent record.
Black Opry Revue's Intimate Songwriter's Round
Black Opry Revue (featuring performers Aaron Vance, Sug Daniels, Nikki Morgan and Nicky Diamonds) offered a mid-day treat at the Revival Stage, proving to be a must-see.
Each artist took their own turn to showcase their talent with just their voice and guitar, thriving under their stripped-down, writer's round format. The group flowed through their set, easily navigating a style that can often seem disjointed.
Rattlesnake Milk's Incendiary Return
Locals Rattlesnake Milk tore up the Saloon stage with their psychedelic cowpunk-Americana amalgamation. People waited hours in line for a spot in the small room to take in Lou Lewis’ snarling tremolo and to navigate the sun-washed desert acid trip the band takes you on.
The War And Treaty's Show-Stealing Performance
The War and Treaty had to be the day's stand-out favorite. On the heels of the release of Lover’s Game, the duo packed the covered Beer Hall with a crowd spilling out and surrounding the space. Giving an electric and emotionally charged performance, The War And Treaty surprised the few attendees who didn’t already have them on their radar.
Sierra Ferrell's Vibrant Display
If I had to describe West Virginia native Sierra Ferrell in one word, it would be authentic. Blending country, folk, bluegrass and some Latin styles, Ferrell has a way of taking traditional styles of music and making them feel fresh and new. There’s a reason she sells out venues; if she’s playing nearby, I would make a point of seeing her.
The Heavy Heavy's Textured Harmonies
UK’s The Heavy Heavy brought their reverb-soaked sunshine pop to the ranch, led by Will Turner and Georgie Fuller. The set was like stepping into a portal and arriving in an era punctuated by hope and haze. The band recently expanded their lineup to five members, creating four-part harmonies that bathed the crowd in warmth.
Hermanos Gutiérrez' Cool Complexities
Hermanos Gutiérrez, composed of brothers Alejandro and Estevan, is a two-piece instrumental band from Switzerland. The pair played songs from their most recent record, El Bueno Y El Malo, recorded in Nashville, TN with Dan Auerbach of The Black Keys. There’s a coolness to the slow burn of their intricately woven guitar lines - close your eyes and you can get lost in the complexities.
Drayton Farley's Rich Storytelling
Earlier this month, Drayton Farley released his sophomore full-length album, Twenty On High. With a clear influence and similarity to Jason Isbell, it’s hard not to appreciate the lush storytelling of the songwriter. Drayton’s performance was very much his own though - stripped down to just his voice and his guitar, he drew distance from such comparison.
Willie Nelson's Festival-Closing Classic
As is tradition, Willie Nelson closed out the evening with an hour-long set. Accompanied by his son, Micah, and Ray Benson of Asleep at the Wheel, this year missed the presence of Nelson’s other son, Lukas. Regardless, the superstar gave as good a performance as one could imagine; delivering a greatest hits set including fan favorites 'Mammas Don’t Let Your Babies Grow Up to Be Cowboys' and 'On The Road Again'.
For more coverage and information on Luck Reunion 2023 and 2024, see below: