By David and Kay Scott
The Valdosta Daily Times
Luckenbach, Texas, made famous by the 1977 hit song of the same name (with subtitle “Back to the Basics of Love”), remains a popular destination both for travelers and locals.
Although no one any longer lives in Luckenbach (even though a sign on one of the buildings declares “population 3”), this one-time trading post remains a magnet for those in search of country music, dancing, knocking back a couple of cold long necks (as in beer), and just having a good time.
First-time visitors to Luckenbach are likely to feel they are viewing some kind of apparition — perhaps placed there by aliens in need of beer-guzzling human captives. Glance toward the store and you expect to see Paul Newman dressed in character as Judge Roy Bean holding court and getting ready to dispense “law west of the Pecos.” Luckenbach, Texas, is a mystical kind of place.
This region of Texas, often called “The Hill Country,” was settled by German immigrants in the mid-1800s. What now goes under the name of Luckenbach was initially called South Grape Creek Community. The current name came into play when one of the settlers in 1886 applied for reestablishment of a post office and decided to use her fiance’s surname on the application.
The community remained in the same family from its founding in 1849 until 1970 when it was sold to a trio of Texans, one of whom proclaimed himself mayor. The settlement was never really much of a town, although at one time it included a post office, school, community hall, general store, blacksmith shop, and a steam-powered cotton gin. Most of these are now gone. The school closed in 1964 and the old cotton gin and blacksmith shop were taken out by a flood in 2002. The post office closed in 1970 when Beeno Engel, a descendant of Luckenbach’s founders, retired as postmaster.
Chickens continue to strut around the place, but it is doubtful they are from the family tree of those raised by the original settlers.
Things picked up in the early 1970s when the dance hall served as the location for songwriter and singer Jerry Jeff Walker and the Lost Gonzo Band to record the album “Viva Terlingua.” Four years later, the real boom arrived when Bobby Emmons and Chips Moman penned the hamlet’s namesake song that was recorded by Waylon Jennings and Willie Nelson.
Today Luckenbach is a venue for beer and country music. Although much of the original community is history, the really important components of the settlement — general store, saloon, and dance hall — remain. Stacks of T-shirts, sweats, key chains, bumper stickers, and lots of other Luckenbach memorabilia are offered for sale in the general store. However, it’s music and atmosphere that draw the faithful.
Step down into the saloon and you might expect to find Waylon and Willie sitting around a circle picking guitars and singing along with the boys. Although Waylon passed away in 2002 and Willie hasn’t visited for some time, their spirit lives on here. Maybe it’s time to sell your diamond rings and buy some boots and faded jeans, and go away to Luckenbach where there ain’t nobody feelin’ no pain.
David and Kay Scott reside in Valdosta and are authors of “Complete Guide to the National Park Lodges.” Visit them at www.valdosta.edu/~dlscott/Scott