SXSW 2018: Thursday at Willie Nelson’s Luck Reunion (Part 1) – 15th March 2018

By on Friday, 20th April 2018 at 2:00 pm
 

On the Thursday of SXSW, I had the unique opportunity to attend the celebrated Luck Reunion, hosted at the Luck, Texas ranch of legendary country songwriter Willie Nelson. The Luck Reunion’s stated mission is “to cultivate the new while showing honor to influence”, among “musicians, artisans, and chefs, who like the outlaws and outliers before them, follow their dreams without compromise.” The event is staged at Nelson’s home and working ranch, which is about a 45-minute drive from downtown Austin, and which presents a very different atmosphere from the hectic SXSW schedule of conferences and showcases.

Lilly Hiatt internal

Once arrived at the Luck Ranch, I didn’t have much time to get acquainted with the surroundings before the full day of music was set to begin. I took a quick peek into the tiny Luck Chapel to catch a couple of songs from Nashville songwriter Lilly Hiatt, whose quirky combination of folky Americana and grungy rock sounds can be heard on her recent third album ‘Trinity Lane’.

Song Swap internal

Next, I headed outside to the Revival Stage, which was hosting a “song swap”, including a pair of songwriters I was keen to hear, Arizona native singer Courtney Marie Andrews and soulful Nashville songwriter Sam Lewis, who were joined onstage by fellow songwriters Caleb Caudle and Kevin Kinney (of Drivin’ N Cryin’). I’m not sure if the song swap was intended to be more interactive among the performers, but in practice, the four artists simply took turns singing their own songs, rather than actually swapping. That said, I was especially excited to hear songs from Andrews’ excellent recent album ‘May Your Kindness Remain’, and Lewis’ upcoming LP ‘Loversity’. All four singers made a strong impression of the quality of songwriting on display at Luck.

Buck Meek internal

Immediately following on the same stage, Buck Meek (also known to TGTF readers as part of Big Thief) played a set of his solo tunes, including one, ‘Sam Bridges’, that I vaguely recognized from a Big Thief show back in 2015. I was able to catch Meek after his set for a quick chat about that song as well as the new ones on his forthcoming self-titled solo LP. Stay tuned to TGTF for that interview, which will post in the coming days.

Sam Lewis internal

After chatting with Meek, I had an appointment for another interview, this one with the aforementioned Sam Lewis. Outside the Luck Chapel, he and I took seats on an old wooden swingset, which was both novel and remarkably sturdy. (Thanks to Sarah for the photo above.) Lewis was outgoing and easy to talk to, and we chatted extensively about his upcoming LP ‘Loversity’, which is due out on the 4th of May. Be sure to check back with us for the forthcoming full interview, where he expands on the album’s unusual title as a theme for the songs it contains.

David Ramirez internal

My next stop was at the Back to the Source Stage for Austin native songwriter David Ramirez. I’d spied Ramirez and his bandmates earlier, walking around the Luck Ranch and enjoying the beautiful day ahead of their set. The informal atmosphere seemed very much to Ramirez’ liking, and he played a gorgeous show for the occasion, finding a pitch-perfect blend of old songs and new ones alike. He and his band were in top form here, showcasing themselves collectively under the newly minted moniker David Ramirez and the Hard Luck.

Jade Bird internal

I had noticed in passing that the Luck Chapel had a constant queue outside it throughout the afternoon. With a capacity of only 50 people, the intimate stage was in high demand all day long, but never more so than for British singer/songwriter Jade Bird. Disappointed that I wasn’t able to get inside to see her performance, I went around to the side of the building and spectated through an open window. The collection of punters standing outside with me were as delighted with Bird’s performance as the lucky ones who’d gotten in, and she quickly gained a reputation as “one to watch” for the remainder of SXSW. I was fortunate to hear Jade Bird sing again the following morning; keep an eye on TGTF for my Friday recap.

Hop Along internal

From there, it was a quick few steps back to the Revival Stage, where I saw a pair of rather unusual acts, Hop Along and Ezra Furman. Hop Along were unfamiliar to me, but I took an instant liking to lead singer Frances Quinlan’s voice. Their new album ‘Bark Your Head Off, Dog’ is an odd but appealing collection of songs painted with a broad sonic palette, out now via Saddle Creek. I was slightly more familiar with Ezra Furman, and the Luck Reunion seemed at first glance an odd choice of venue for his brand of angsty rock. However, if the event’s focus was indeed on “outlaws” of songwriting, Furman was in the right place, despite the oddity of seeing him perform in typically-female attire against the backdrop of a functional stable and horse pen. His recent fourth solo album ‘Transangelic Exodus’ is a brilliant and bizarre display of lyrical storytelling, out now on Bella Union.

Ezra Furman

By this point, I needed a break before hitting the World Headquarters Stage for evening sets by Lukas Nelson and the Promise of the Real, Kurt Vile, Nathaniel Rateliff and the Night Sweats, and of course, Willie Nelson and Family. Drinks at the Luck Reunion were complimentary and freely flowing at various locations throughout the day, but I took this time out to avail myself of the food choices provided by a selection of local vendors. There was no shortage of delicious options, and if you appreciate a deftly-designed culinary experience alongside your carefully-curated music, then the Luck Reunion would certainly be your cup of tea. Stay tuned to TGTF for my Thursday evening recap, which will include more from the Luck Reunion as well as two late night shows back in downtown Austin.

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