Jerry Jeff Hondo

Jerry Jeff and Hondo are still giggling over their cosmic joke. Photo by Phil Houseal

Aug 23, 2023–No matter how many times you snake along Farm to Market Road 1376, a small tingle rises when you turn off on Luckenbach’s Town Loop. I vividly recall my first trip here in 1978. It was like a pilgrimage to Lourdes. The song Luckenbach, Texas (Back to the Basics of Love) had just turned everyone from Staying Alive to two-stepping. When I walked into the Post Office/General Store/Bar, where pickers sat around the wood-burning stove with Lone Star longnecks perched on the table, it was like stepping onto a movie set.

Surprising to me, that “magical” feeling was still there when I drove out for the 50th Anniversary celebration of the recording of Viva Terlingua last weekend.

Luckenbach celebrated the watershed moment, the zero hour, the cosmic singularity that turned country music on its keester, when Jerry Jeff Walker sat down with his Lost Gonzo Band next to Hondo Crouch and recorded that little live LP.

Luckenbach door

The famous Luckenbach door, as it appeared on the album cover Viva Terlingua 50 years ago, has been returned to Texas after 5 years on display at the Country Music Hall of Fame in Nashville. Photo by Phil Houseal

The recording was so live, you could hear the chickens on the soundtrack. Descendants of that flock still roost in the old oaks hanging over the beer garden. You can read about the pivotal role the record played in music and cultural history elsewhere. But last weekend, hundreds of people seeking that magic returned to the hallowed ground to be a part of shared history.

And it is hallowed ground.

Kitt Patterson

Kitt Patterson, Hondo’s grandson and current “somebody” at Luckenbach, has grown up watching the magic spell this place puts on visitors. Photo by Phil Houseal

Hondo’s grandson, Kitt Patterson, literally grew up here. He still sees the magic every day.

“It’s pretty much a special place,” Patterson said. “There were always folks that would come here and just didn’t get it. They see it as nothing but dirt. And that’s okay. You just let those people go on and they find their place somewhere else. But other people get it–these buildings, these oak trees, the history, authenticity and the honesty of what this place is. As Jessie Colter said, it was a time and a place that will never happen again.”

While Luckenbach was the stage where all the magic unfolded, the players were Hondo and Jerry Jeff.

“When I think of Hondo and Jerry Jeff, they absolutely loved life to the fullest,” Patterson said “Their friendship and love for one another spawned all of this.”

Tonight was all about Jerry Jeff Walker recording his ground-breaking album here. As legends like Michael Martin Murphey and Ray Wylie Hubbard reprised the hits on stage, pilgrims wandered the grounds, reliving their own stories.

Michael Martin Murphey

Michael Martin Murphey reprises his hits from 50 years ago for the Viva Terlingua celebration at Luckenbach TX. Photo by Phil Houseal

As a high school student, Steve Kneese was there with his buds 50 years ago, because “Mom and Dad told us not to.”

“When the recording happened, I was standing behind the dance hall right there,” Kneese recalled, pointing at the back of the building. “Two buddies of mine were sitting at that table. And they pulled me up through the window.”

Did they realize at the time what a momentous occasion was happening?

“Not at all,” he said. “I’m not saying we didn’t drink any beer that night. I mean, it was great. We still remember what to us was the greatest place on Earth.”

If it sounds like defining the place, the music, the event is elusive, it’s because it is. Documentary filmmaker Eric A. Geadelmann has spent the last decade trying to distill the essence of what happened in 1973, and what is still happening. Next year he plans to release his 6-part streaming series They Called Us Outlaws in partnership with the Country Music Hall of Fame. He was at Luckenbach this weekend capturing final footage.

Of all the interviews Geadelmann has filmed with recording artists, songwriters, producers, and musicians, the most moving was when he spent time with Jerry Jeff Walker.

Django Walker

Jerry Jeff’s son, Django Walker, keeps memories and music of his famous father alive at Luckenbach TX. Photo by Phil Houseal

“The Jerry Jeff Walker interview was really one of the highlights of all 130 plus interviews,” Geadelmann said. “It went about two hours. A lot of really amazing information was revealed, some of it for the first time. In both humorous and heartfelt ways, it was really special.”

So special, he emerged from the process with new insight.

“No question. Being at the feet of these true artists for such a prolonged period of time was life changing,” he said. “To learn what it means to be an artist and follow what’s inside yourself, regardless, really sums up the entire 12 hours. This is why these amazing singer-songwriters are put on this planet–to connect with you and me, to somehow process all the stuff that is the human condition, and make sense of it, and present it to us in a way that resonates.”

So where does the magic of Luckenbach TX reside? Is it the buildings? Is it the place? Is it the people? Is it the music?

Kitt Patterson smiled and gave his answer:

“Yes,” he said. “I’m saying, yes.”