Wednesday, April 29, 2015

A Special Texas Kind of Feeling

Luckenbach, Texas has a special feeling about it. It's the feeling you get when you meet a legend in person, although of course, Luckenbach is not a person. It may only be a place, but it has a distinct personality, located deep in the heart of Texas – literally and figuratively. If you've been there, you know what I mean. If you've never been there, you owe it to yourself to make the trip to this Texas landmark, ten miles southeast of Fredericksburg, Texas.

We arrived on a hot summer evening, and the magic was immediately apparent. Thirty or so people sat at picnic tables under the trees watching five performers taking turns presenting their music. As we approached, I felt as though I was intruding on a private performance, but that ended quickly when one of the performers nodded and smiled at us. That simple action made it clear that although she knew we were tourists, we were welcome to join them. They wanted us to have a seat, sip a cold beer, and be a part of the intimate setting that is the Picker Circle.

It's an attitude that makes Luckenbach unique. It's the attitude adopted by many musicians – singer/songwriter/guitarists that write and play their own songs in order to stand out. It's the attitude exemplified by the so-called outlaw country artists like Willie Nelson, Waylon Jennings, Steve Earle, Robert Earl Keen, Billy Joe Shaver, Joe Ely, Guy Clark, and many others, including several female performers. These were the artists that didn't necessarily fit into the Nashville mold; artists/performers that found freedom in the Texas attitude – the freedom to be who they were and play what they want to play. It is the freedom to be independent and relevant regardless of what everyone else is doing.

In Luckenbach, the attitude extends to the audience, as in: 'Come on in, have a seat, relax, have a beer, and enjoy our music!' It doesn't get any friendlier than that.

I couldn't stop smiling the whole time we were there. I didn't want to look like a tourist, but I was pleased to be in this iconic place – a spot where the simple act of a singer/songwriter/guitarist sitting on a chair under an oak tree, playing his or her music while other performers and a small crowd looks on, is as real as it gets. My son Brendan and I walked over to the dance hall and peeked in. The door was roped off to prevent entry, but standing in the doorway of this iconic room made me smile yet again. This is the place where legends have stood: Jerry Jeff Walker, Waylon, Willie, Robert Earl Keen, Gary P. Nunn, and many others have worked their magic in this incredible place.

Yes, they sell some tourist stuff in the store, and yes, we had our picture taken standing in front of the Luckenbach post office sign. Okay, so thousands of tourists have done it, and I'm okay with that. It felt right, mostly because Luckenbach isn't the typical tourist kind of place. The music, the atmosphere, the vibe, are genuine. This is not a tourist put-on; it is a real place where great music happens just about every day.

When you sit at a picnic table under a huge oak tree with a cold beer and watch these people play and sing, you feel that attitude. It's a state of mind of a performer who goes out on a limb and plays his or her own music – original, unapologetic, and passionate. It's the independent spirit that makes this music and this place so special. Yes, Luckenbach, Texas really is a place where magic happens. The sign on the mailbox reads: "Everybody's Somebody in Luckenbach." Those are more than just words – they describe a state of mind. A Luckenbach, Texas state of mind.

Do yourself a favor – take some time off from your busy life and travel to Luckenbach. Have a seat at a picnic table under an oak tree, and allow yourself the luxury of soaking up the special feeling and attitude. It will almost certainly leave you smiling and feeling good about the world.

Larry Manch is an author, teacher, guitar player, freelance writer, and columnist. His books include: 'The Toughest Hundred Dollars & Other Rock & Roll Stories', 'A Sports Junkie', 'The Avery Appointment', 'Between the Fuzzy Parts'.

He also writes about baseball for Climbing Tal's Hill, food and travel on Miles & Meals, and music/guitars on The Backbeat.

He lives in Central Texas with his wife and family.

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