Heartbreaker BanquetWillie Nelson's Luck, Texas, Thursday, March 14
Willie Nelson's Luck, Texas, was originally built in 1986 on his ranch in Spicewood to serve as the film set for Red Headed Stranger. Legend says the original script had the town burning down, but Nelson wouldn't allow it. Good thing, as the Heartbreaker Banquet, now in its second year, provides the perfect respite from the South by Southwest madness, and one of the most unique events during the week. Organized by local video and production company Robot Fondue along with Electric Lady Studios in New York, the all-day party packed the ghost town with talent between an outdoor main stage and intimate altar in the tiny chapel. Austinites Lonesome Heroes and the Happen-Ins opened the day, the former laying their cosmic country inside and the latter dropping perfect Southern soul jams in the afternoon sun. Canadian quintet the Treasures and Indiana's Houndmouth both unloaded country roots that hearkened further south than their origins, as did the Brooklyn bluegrass of Spirit Family Reunion. While John McCauley's super indie quintet Diamond Rugs raucously demanded "Gimme a Beer," complete with threepiece horn section, the afternoon's standouts were Samantha Crain's Oklahoma folk, and the stunning blues inflected turns of Memphis' Valerie June as she previewed songs from her upcoming debut. Rising star Elle King's brassy vocals struck Janis Joplin touches in delivering "Good to Be a Man" and her lascivious cover of rapper Khia's "My Neck, My Back," and Phosphorescent's Matthew Houck serenaded the sunset with Willie Nelson's "Reasons to Quit," voice cracking perfectly in the dusty air. South Carolina duo Shovels and Rope pounded like an Americana Matt & Kim, and although Michael Kiwanuka's smooth soul salved the main stage as the night came on, it was Shakey Graves who may have worked the most fervent crowd, overflowing the 50-person capacity chapel. The local songwriter brought the congregation to their feet in a stomping and clapping furor as he moaned through "Unlucky Skin" and "Roll the Bones," veins popping from his sweat-streaked neck. If Shakey Graves threatened to quake the church with power, Austin's Monster of Folk Will Johnson caved the walls with reverence, a hushed crowd leveled by "Flashes and Cables." Jim James' cosmic, spiritual wanderlust closed the town, strobe lights uncannily flaring against the wooden facades as he explored Regions of Light and Sound of God. Only in Texas – Luck, Texas.