On assignment this March in San Antonio (where event-capable gems include the 1913 Charline McCombs Empire Theatre, 1926 Aztec Theatre and national landmark 1929 Majestic Theatre), I also visited Hill Country group destinations north of the city. Amid the rapturous landscapes, discoveries included classic music venues, such as the 1942 Brauntex Theatre and 1878 Gruene Hall, the oldest dance hall in Texas, both in New Braunfels.
Then it was off to time warp Luckenbach Texas.
Established in 1849 as a trading post for German settlers and Comanche Indians, the hamlet added a combined post office, saloon and general store in 1886 and a dance hall in 1887. After local folk hero Hondo Crouch and friends purchased the whole place in 1970, Willie Nelson and Waylon Jennings put it on the world’s musical map with their 1977 song Luckenbach, Texas (Back to the Basics of Love).
“Laid-back with a vengeance,” Luckenbach continues to attract countless fans with live Texas music seven days a week, from headliner concerts to outdoor pickin’ under 500-year-old oak trees.
Arriving before noon, I met with a circle of musicians playing in the tiny saloon, including couple Jay and Tammy Roy, who have been crisscrossing America with their music since 1978. “That’s when we first came to Luckenbach,” Jay informed, “called by Willie’s and Waylon’s song.”
Due for lunch with Fredericksburg CVB President and CEO Ernie Loeffler, I had to motor.
“Come back later,” they said. “The music will still be playing.”
As Loeffler explained, the bureau routinely schedules Luckenbach for off-site functions.
“Meeting planners seeking a true Texas music venue can buy out the entire ‘town,’ creating both outdoor and indoor event space,” he said. “Working with their great people, our meetings staff can coordinate catering, such as chuckwagon cooking, and for Texas two-stepping, bring in local or national bands, depending on the budget.”
Teambuilding activities include washer pitching tournaments, while branded keepsakes and gifts such as Luckenbach, Texas bandanas make for great memories.
“When hosting the national Wine Marketing & Tourism Conference last year, we put copies of Luckenbach, Texas on each seat of the attendees’ bus,” Loeffler said. “The singing was a rousing start to the outing.”
Back at Luckenbach, the party was on. In the packed dance hall, its wooden floor “as smooth as ice” as Loeffler had shared, a band was rocking Sweet Home Alabama. Amid the festival atmosphere of cowboys, bikers, families and other revelers, I spent the afternoon with Ray and Tammy inside their mobile home, sharing stories of the road, favorite musicians and songs, and as Willie and Waylon sang, “feelin’ no pain.”