Music fans or just aficionados of unusual cultural events who can get themselves to Willie Nelson’s ranch in late October and early November are destined to get lucky. For a stretching lasting from Oct. 28 through Nov. 6, his Luck Ranch outside of Austin will play host to a first-time festival, Lucktoberfest. The gathering will have a different theme for each of its 10 nights and days — ranging from a costume ball with Orville Peck to a Day of the Dead celebration with Los Lobos to a Fantastic Negrito-led “Black Opry Revue” showcase.
The musical offerings will not all be country, by any means, but genre buffs will take a special interest in the penultimate night, dubbed “Sweethearts and a Rodeo,” which will combine an all-female lineup with Tanya Tucker, Sierra Ferrell and Nikki Lane and combine it with the first actual rodeo to ever be held at Luck Ranch.
Non-musical highlights will range from a family-oriented trick-or-treating night on Halloween to a “queer Southern glamour” fashion show.
It will all go down at Luck Ranch, which is a 30-40 minute drive from Austin (with shuttle buses available from the city), with a budget-friendly cost of $100 for a full 10-day pass or $35 for any individual night. Lucktoberfest organizers see it as a more accessible and diverse complement to the Luck Family Reunion music festivals that they produce at the ranch adjacent to SXSW every spring, which are costlier and more exclusive.
“It’s a separate thing,” Luck Presents founder Matt Bizer tells Variety, for anyone further curious about how this differs from their signature springtime event. “The Luck Reunions really are our our homecoming for the Luck family and the artists and this community we’ve built over the years. But we really just felt like we wanted to host an event that was more open to the (Texas) community. You know, the Reunion sells out before we even announce the lineup every year. And we wanted to open Luck up to a larger group of people who maybe miss out on that opportunity. It’s a little more informal; you don’t have to feel like, ‘Oh man, I gotta get tickets today or I’m not gonna get to go’ or ‘it’s VIP-only and it doesn’t include me.’ It’s still a small, intimate experience, but it’s a lot going on, from the full carnival happening at the midway to your classic Octoberfest beer hall happening all week, to the outdoor main stage.”
Bizer spotlights the diversity of programming over the week and a half, pointing out “everything from our Western masquerade ball -with Orville Peck to a Bavarian night that’s gonna have a really fun, traditional Octoberfest feel. We’ve had some great groups and artists come together for Dia de los Muertos, where we’re gonna have everything from a procession and experience to the music [by Los Lobos and traditional Mexican artists] being incredible. We’re doing our first-ever fashion show out at Luck that’s being curated to celebrate a big group of queer artists from the Texas area that are creating their own experiences. We’re be having a true rodeo our first true rodeo at the ranch the second Saturday, and the last Sunday, we’re having a golf tournament,” he says.
“We felt we needed to open the doors to different community curators, different organizations, different groups to sort of show us what Texas is, versus us saying what we know what it is. And I think that’s what we’ve been trying to do over the last six, nine months, is to talk to different groups and organizations to have them take over and curate days and create special pop-ups and experiences. We want it to be a place where everyone can kind of come and feel at home. Luck is this sort of neutral ground, and I think under our landlord, Willie Nelson, and the way he sees the world, we just wanted to embody that and really throw an event that just felt like it could be for anyone and everyone if they want to come out, whether it’s bringing the family or coming solo to one of the shows in the evening.”
The Luck Ranch area takes up about a third of Nelson’s property in Texas. “We like to call it ‘just outside of Austin, which is a little nod to Lucas (Nelson, Willie’s son) and his song about it.” Bizer explains the origins of the town… or “town”… of Luck.
“It’s kind of a mystical Western town, in that it was built for Willie’s 1985 movie ‘The Redheaded Stranger.’ And the town was saved by Willie, in that in the original script, it was written to be burned down. and Willie said, ‘I’ve always dreamed of having a Western town since I was a little kid,’ and so he kept it. It became this sort of playground for adults, for him to have his own space and have a wild Western town in his backyard. But it sat for quite a few years, until about 10 years ago we started opening it back up to the public for the Luck Reunion. Since then, we’ve been maintaining it and trying to preserve the Western facades and keep the town alive and give it a face for the new generation where people can experience it and visit.
“And it really is the Nelsons’ home. One of the beautiful things about it is they only open it up a few times a year, and I think it has that sort of mystical feeling of a special place. You can tell when you come there that it just makes you want to be your better self, in the sense that it truly is like a lucky place. When you pull into town, you pass all of Willie’s rescue horses on the dirt road driving in, and arrive little Western town at the end of the road where there’s a big Hollywood-style sign that says LUCK up on the hillside. And from there on out, you’re in Luck,” he chuckles. “It kind of comes to life and has its own little experience for each person that comes.”
The inclusivity could be seen as a political statement, given that not the entire country is enamored of Texas state policy in the current climate, whereas Austin tends to operate as nearly its own cultural state. But if anything, Bizer says part of the idea of Lucktoberfest is to help erase those lines.
“I think it just goes back to the idea of community in the first place,” the Luck Presents founder says. “Everywhere we look right now, everyone’s focused on the differences, and I think for us, it’s like, let’s unite around the things that we all care about and the things that we do believe in. Let’s try to find a way to reconnect and bond, and truly be a community. It’s kind of crucial in times like this to have a space where people can kind of get together and kind of find ways to reconnect, find ways to realize we’re all people. I think when you get a lot of people in the same room, you start to see those walls tear down a little bit. We’re hoping for is just to continue to do what we’ve always done, which is hold space for people to come together. And I think Willie’s always been famous for that, and we want to represent that in our mantra of how we put on these experiences, creating space for people to be themselves. And so, yeah, I think in a way it’s an answer to the times we live in today, which is to, instead of letting everyone else paint a portrait of Texas, let us paint our own portrait of ourselves through an experience.”
More information on Lucktoberfest can be found here. Following is Luck Presents’ thumbnail descriptions of the daily themes and events:
Friday, October 28th: A Texas-Sized Kickoff Celebration Featuring: Paul Cauthen’s Big Velvet Revue
“The grand introduction to the first-ever Lucktoberfest will kick off our 10-day celebration of Texas culture in a big way with Paul Cauthen’s Big Velvet Revue, featuring special guests as big as The Lonestar State. Did we mention that it’s big?”
Saturday, October 29th: Outlaw Masquerade Ball Featuring: Orville Peck
“Headlined by Orville Peck, this night is a far-west cowboy-themed masquerade ball featuring an eclectic cast of characters from burlesque dancers, saloon acts, and more special experiences; an homage to our unapologetic ancestors who paved the way for modern-day outliers and outsiders continuing the outlaw tradition.”
Sunday, October 30th: Prost, Y’all! “Luck-Oktoberfest” Featuring: Alex Meixner and Friends
“A night of German-influenced entertainment celebrating cherished Bavarian traditions from everything to polka and Maskrugstemmen (beer-stein holding) featuring headliner and world-renowned musician Alex Meixner and special guests.”
Monday, October 31st: LUCK-O-LANTERN Halloween Family Night Featuring: A Special Matthew Logan Vasquez and Friends Spooktacular
“Just outside of neighborhood tradition, a unique and exciting one-stop shop for Halloween trick-or-treating, boos and brews, and something for every member of the family. Headlined by Matthew Logan Vasquez featuring a spooktacular all-star band. Kids under 18 get in free with a parent or guardian.”
Tuesday, November 1st: Día De Los Muertos Experience Featuring: Los Lobos and More
“Headlined by four-time Grammy award winners Los Lobos, this Day of the Dead celebration features curated food, music, a community ofrenda, a formal procession, and so much more.”
Wednesday, November 2nd: The Black Opry Revue Featuring: Fantastic Negrito
“Three-time Grammy award winner Fantastic Negrito headlines this night celebrating the soul at the crux of every genre of music, highlighting the work of Black artists who have always been integral to country; folk; blues; and Americana music. The evening will feature a viewing party for Fantastic Negritos’s film, ‘White Jesus Black Problems,’ and more.”
Thursday, November 3rd: Luck Night Market Featuring: Sasami
“Headlined by Sasami, this night celebrates Texas’ Asian American Pacific Islander (AAPI) community with a festive Night Market including street food from some of the best AAPI chefs from around the state, plus a wide array of vendors and artisans.”
Friday, November 4th: Desert Roses Queer Southern Glamour: A Fashion and Variety Show
“An LGBTQIA+ fete taking the celebration from the runway to the stage, featuring central Texas designers FLAMER; DASHE; Alive By Benjamin; This is Sloane; NICÓ; and curators. In Luck, all ways are welcome.”
Saturday, November 5th: Sweethearts and a Rodeo With Tanya Tucker, Sierra Ferrell, and Nikki Lane
“Led by two-time Grammy award winner Tanya Tucker, this night will feature an all-star female music lineup straight out of Honky Tonk, USA, celebrating the women of country music. Dust off your hat and shine up your boots for a yee-to-the-haw-filled night featuring a rowdy rodeo, two-steppin’ dancehall experience, and more.”
Sunday, November 6th: Bloody Mary Morning: A Luck-style Send-off and Brunch Festival with Bob Schneider and Shiny Ribs
“The grand finale to the first-ever Lucktoberfest will bring Bob Schneider and Shiny Ribs to the stage for an all-day fanfare and feast featuring your favorite brunch plates from national and local chefs.”