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Happy Trails

The little Hill Country town of Luckenbach is more than a tourist stop; it's a place to make new friends and hear some music.

By April 2003Comments

Top, the happening scene at Luckenbach; the bust of humorist Hondo Crouch.
Photograph by Jeremy Atkinson

MY BOYFRIEND, JEREMY, AND I set out one sunny Saturday afternoon on Texas Highway 290 through Johnson City and into Fredericksburg. We stopped at the newly built visitors center, which is one street behind the National Museum of the Pacific War. As we perused the pamphlets, we overheard a fellow traveler requesting information and directions to Luckenbach. This woman, who had come from Virginia, declared she would not leave the state until she went to Luckenbach. She sparked our curiosity. I’m not sure how I had managed to avoid Luckenbach in my travels, but now we were on our way.

Jeremy and I were surprised that Luckenbach is a mere fifteen-minute drive from Fredericksburg. But be forewarned: If you miss the weather-beaten signs, you may pass right by this small Hill Country town. Be sure to turn at the sign that points to the Luckenbach Town Loop, the main street in this tiny hamlet. When we first arrived, we walked around a bit to take it all in—the dance hall, the store, the beer joint. And let me make it clear: We took everything in—the dance hall, the store, the beer joint (that’s it folks). But what the town lacks in structures, it makes up for in personality.

Established as a trading post in 1849, Luckenbach was purchased by the late folk humorist Hondo Crouch in the early seventies. A bust of Crouch is on display in front of the general store, and famous Crouch quotes are scattered about town, on the walls and in conversations. And we certainly did our share of talking to the locals. We asked a lady in the general store about the hard times Luckenbach experienced after the floods in the summer of 2002. She told us that at the time, there was more than four feet of water in the store and that the historic dance hall was filthy with mud. Then she went on to tell us that people from all around, people who love Luckenbach, came to help. Her eyes sparkled with pride as she explained the effort folks put forth to pick up the pieces and put Luckenbach back in working order after that trying time.

That good feeling stayed with us as we roamed over to the beer joint, in the very back of the store, and met Sheriff Marge, who tends bar on the weekends. After purchasing a couple of ice-cold beers, we headed outside. People were gathered under the tall shade trees, stomping their feet to the authentic country pickin’ (that’s what the locals call good music). The faint sound of washer tossing could be heard just behind us, where a match was underway. The number of performers would fluctuate from one to eight, each musician entering in with a handshake or a smile. As we enjoyed the beat, I noticed a woman standing in the back of a red pickup truck. She appeared to be styling a man’s hair, and, unbelievably, she was. Ah, the beauty of Luckenbach. The town is full of such rich characters. Take, for example, Sam Lewis, the owner and the chief executive of the World Armadillo Breeding and Racing Association. Lewis, who passed away January 10, 2003, brought many smiles to Luckenbach through his warmth and generosity—he would hold the Armadillo Races, which are a popular part of Luckenbach culture.

Our busy afternoon of hanging out left us starving for dinner, so we headed into Fredericksburg to eat just before the sun went down. When we returned to Luckenbach early in the evening, we found most everyone had moved into the bar, where Sheriff Marge was keeping the room toasty warm by tending to an old wood-burning stove. As we approached the side door and peered in, we saw that the musicians were still performing, simply in a new spot. The entire bar was packed, but it felt like a room full of family and friends. Everyone was singing and laughing. A man turned around and noticed we were not completely inside, and he insisted we come in from the cold. He told us that all the fun was up front, close to the music. Other people turned to smile and nod at us, as if they knew us. Jeremy and I stayed until almost midnight. Sheriff Marge was still serving beers and the band was still playing when we left.

Jeremy and I headed to Enchanted Rock to camp for the night. After an early morning hike up the summit and a quick sandwich in the truck, we made our way back to Luckenbach. We had heard that Sundays draw a large crowd, and we were anxious to hear more great music. Our new friends greeted us upon our return, solidifying that good feeling. We hung out and basically did what we had done the day before—talked, listened, and stomped our feet. We had heard Luckenbach is the place where “everybody is somebody,” but we weren’t prepared for the actual experience. Waylon and Willie love it there (they sang a song about it), and so do a lot of other folks—Jeremy and myself included.

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