The town of Luckenbach, Texas, lost its post office in 1971. It would have been the death of most places, but it was just the beginning for this town in Texas Hill Country.
When the post office closed, rancher Hondo Crouch purchased the property. "Buying" Luckenbach meant acquiring a general store, dance hall and a few other worn-out buildings. While few people lived in Luckenbach (three, according to records), it served as a place to sell produce, buy supplies or dance on Friday nights.
Crouch enjoyed sitting under the broad trees telling stories and playing tunes. In 1973, his friend and fellow musician, Jerry Jeff Walker, recorded "Viva Terlingua" in the town’s dance hall. Luckenbach was back on the map, so to speak.
A few years later, Chips Moman and Bobby Emmons heard about Luckenbach and wrote a song about the town. Waylon Jennings cut the song in 1977, and it quickly rose to the top of the charts.
Neither Jennings or the songwriters had ever been to Luckenbach. In fact, it was 1997 before Jennings paid a visit. That’s not unusual, though. The Eagles never "stood on a corner in Winslow, Ariz." The Monkees didn’t "catch the last train to Clarksville," Tenn. Neither did Stephen Foster ever venture "way down upon the Suwannee River."
Both the song and the town are still popular today, but finding the town is no easy feat. Road signs reading "Luckenbach" are tempting for tourists to swipe.
Once there, you might think you’ve arrived in a place made to look old. It’s surely has to be a movie set. It is old—both the general store and the dance hall date back to the pre-1900s. You can bring a license plate to nail to the buildings. They say nailing those plates to the planks keeps the buildings from falling down.
Someone or some band is playing practically every day of the year. Some days there’s a trickle of people, but on weekend nights, the place can swell to more than 1,000.
In real life. Recently, I had a nice visit with the folks who keep the "city" running. They like to say, "Everybody’s somebody in Luckenbach." It’s true. I struck up a conversation with a couple from Nova Scotia. Folks from Iowa and Illinois stopped for a bottle of pop in the general store, then wandered back out to listen to the music and watch the hens that run free. (No one seems to know who owns them; they’re just here.) Europeans love the fabled western town, too.
While it’s been more than 35 years since Jennings recorded "Luckenbach, Texas," the message of the song and the pace of life still resonate. Jennings would be proud of the town he made famous. Luckenbach might be small in scale, but its mighty presence reminds us all that the simple things are often the most important in life.
"American Countryside" is heard Monday through Friday on a network of about 100 radio stations and frequently on "U.S. Farm Report" TV. To find the station nearest you, visit www.AmericanCountryside.com
- Early Spring 2014