“I’m just here to make sure no one gives beer to the horses.”
Well there’s a sentence you’re not going to hear in downtown Austin during South by Southwest. No, you have to drive out to Willie Nelson’s property, where horse pastures sidle up alongside music stages, to find a crew member who’s been hired specifically to make sure no one takes Willie and Toby Keith’s hit song too seriously.
Horses and hipsters coexisted peacefully all day long and well past dark in the rambling fictional town of Luck. On the main World Headquarters stage, indie and country favorites such as Conor Oberst, Margo Price, Shovels & Rope and Valerie June took turns delighting hundreds of festgoers crammed into a corraled area at the far end of the grounds. Meanwhile, tucked into the Revival Tent across the way, rising talents including Brent Cobb, Parker Millsap and surprise guest Elle King offered options for those seeking different sounds.
The tiny chapel stage drew lines out the door all day, even with comparatively lesser-known acts on its roster. And then there were other musical performances that just popped up all over the grounds. When a small shed on the edge of the property had attracted a throng of a couple dozen people, a closer examination revealed renowned fiddler Sara Watkins playing a few songs totally acoustic with Austin’s David Garza on guitar. Backstage in the VIP area, Aaron Lee Tasjan got warmed up for his evening set in the Revival Tent with a short spell in front of cameras on the back porch, at one point getting video-bombed by Texas troubadour Ray Wylie Hubbard.
Everything led up to Willie, who seasoned the top of the bill this year with family ties. Insects and Robots, featuring Willie’s son Micah, got a shot on the World Headquarters stage, as did Micah’s brother Lukas Nelson & Promise of the Real. (Together, they’ve spent quite a bit of time in the past year touring as members of Neil Young’s band.)
Getting back to town before the inevitable crunch of cars trickled out of the grass-loop parking lot meant forgoing actually seeing Willie himself on this visit, a forfeit that was tempered by having caught his set with Ray Benson at GSD&M two nights earlier. It’s a safe bet, though, that everyone who stuck around will long cherish the memory of seeing Texas’ brightest star on his home turf. Just as long as they didn’t give beer to his horses.