A Texas State of Mind
This tiny hill country hamlet where “Everybody’s Somebody” was established as a Trading Post in 1849 making it one of the oldest settlements in Gillespie County. The Post Office/ General Store/ Beer Joint, was first opened in 1886 by August Engel, an itinerant preacher from Germany, who’s daughter Minna chose the name Luckenbach in honor of her fiancé, Albert Luckenbach. (Herr Luckenbach, a prolific fellow, also founded another little town called—what else?—Albert, not far away).
The Trading Post catered to pioneer farmers and Comanche Indians alike. A steam-powered cotton gin was built on the banks of Grape Creek in 1879, and operated with varying degrees of success until it finally closed in 1929. By 1885, the community boasted a blacksmith shop and a consolidated school. There was even a local legend—Jacob Brodbeck, who is documented to have flown a heavier-than-air craft (powered by clocklike springs rather than an internal combustion engine) decades before the Wright Brothers.
In 1970—Luckenbach, which remained in the hands of the Engel family the whole time, fell into eclipse. Benno Engel retired as postmaster and placed an ad in the local paper: “TOWN FOR SALE” —lock, stock and dancehall.
At this point, Luckenbach’s second life began. Luckenbach was purchased by a collection of only-in-Texas characters—Hondo Crouch and his cohorts, Guich Koock and Kathy Morgan, who had what might charitably be described as over-active imaginations. Hondo imagined it was an old west fairy-tale-like principality and gave everybody titles. He formed a make-believe town and proclaimed himself Mayor. He made Marge the Sheriff and appointed ambassadors to foreign countries. The trio began to use the nearly-abandoned buildings as a backdrop for anything that smacked of mirth and diversion: “Hug-Ins”, a Luckenbach World’s Fair, Ladies State Chili Bust, the Mud Dauber Festival — and daily sessions of song-picking, domino playing and beer drinking beneath the 500-year-old oak trees. Today, over thirty years later, these events are still celebrated and the pickers are still pickin’ out under the big oak trees.
Hondo became the “Clown Prince” of Luckenbach, authoring poems celebrating Luckenbach’s big full moon, holding court at various “offishul” festivities and generally giving grown-ups permission to get in touch with the child within. Hondo’s business cards read “Imagineer,” and people began to fall under the magical spell of Luckenbach. Hondo Crouch, “Imagineer“, a "mirthquake," a "legend in his own mind," put the backwoods Camelot on the Texas map simply by being himself. White hair and beard, battered cowboy hat, faded jeans stuffed into his boots and red bandana loosely circling his neck, Hondo philosophized, whittled, told stories, and sang Mexican and cowboy songs. He'd accompany himself on his old guitar, always somewhere within reach. With that and not much more than an elfin smile and a mischievious twinkle in his eye, his magical personality attracted thousands to Luckenbach.
In 1973, Texas country-rocker, Jerry Jeff Walker came to Luckenbach to record an album. Walker wanted a laid-back Texas locale for a backdrop and Luckenbach was laid-back with a vengeance. Jerry Jeff and his Lost Gonzo Band took over the old dancehall, stacked hay bales for sound baffles and sat around the ancient saloon writing songs during the day. At night, they recorded in the dancehall— fast and loose.
The album, Viva Terlingua, went “gold”, pretty much defined what Austin singer/songwriter Steve Fromholz refers to as “the Great Progressive Country Music Scare of the Mid-1970’s”, and made Luckenbach a destination point for everyone who heard it. It produced such Texas classics as: Gary P. Nunn’s, “London Homesick Blues” (Home With The Armadillo); Ray Wylie Hubbard’s “Up Against The Wall Redneck Mother”; Guy Clark’s, “Desperadoes Waiting for A Train” and “Sangria Wine”.
Four years later, Bobby Emmons and Chips Moman – penned an idyllic ode to the burg—“Luckenbach Texas (Back to the Basics)”—which became a massive hit for Waylon Jennings & Willie Nelson, bringing Luckenbach to its ultimate worldwide fame. Tour buses and tourists from around the world began to make Luckenbach a regular stop when visiting Fredericksburg area attractions, such as: The Admiral Nimitz Museum, Enchanted Rock State Park and the L.B.J. Ranch in Stonewall.
Hondo passed away in 1976, the year before “Luckenbach Texas” became a hit, but his spirit is carried on by a collection of descendants. Hondo’s memory is also perpetuated via an eight-page monthly newspaper, The Luckenbach MOON, which is dedicated to “Peter Cedarstacker,” Hondo’s nom de plume when he wrote a column for the Comfort newspaper.
In the Nineties, Luckenbach has become something of a cottage industry, a trademark-registered slice of old-time Texas. After some $75,000 in new wiring, septic system and long-overdue improvements, the old dancehall and general store are ready to two-step into the 21st century. Willie Nelson returns to Luckenbach annually for his 4th of July Picnic with thousands of his closest friends...and that’s just the list of performers. Walker came back in 1993, on the 20th anniversary of the Viva Terlingua recordings to record a follow-up, Viva Luckenbach. He married his wife Susan in the bar in 1974 (Hondo was the best man).
The legendary Dancehall still hosts monthly dances by some of the best Texas musicians going, many of whom were toddlers when Viva Terlingua and “Luckenbach Texas” became hits. Texas minstrels such as Pat Green, Gary P. Nunn, Ray Wylie Hubbard, Billy Joe shaver and their audiences come to partake of the timeless ambiance, the cold beer, and the increasingly rare sense of being in the center of the known universe, a place where everybody is truly somebody. Many of the Luckenbach faithful celebrate the music, magic & memories of times they’ve spent in Luckenbach by returning for special occasions.
Somewhere in the neighborhood of fifty private parties (wedding, receptions, birthday & corporate parties) are booked each year, keeping the Dancehall alive almost every weekend.
Today, Luckenbach reflects an eclectic mix of it’s early history, the larger than life persona of Hondo and an unrivaled legacy of great music that makes us feel that everybody is indeed somebody in Luckenbach.