Faster Than Sound: The First-Ever Lucktoberfest Lands Halloweekend at Willie Nelson’s Luck, Texas

Plus, the Red River Cultural District searches for a new director, and remembering Stewart Wise

Sasami at Levitation 2021 (Photo by John Anderson)

Ten years ago, Ellee Fletcher Durniak and Matt Bizer organized their first-ever show at Luck, Texas. The booking duo's activation of Willie Nelson's Spicewood ranch, the Wild West-themed movie set for Red Headed Stranger, has grown since then. The team rings in a decade with a new 10-day festival called Lucktoberfest, Oct. 28-Nov. 6 (so, after ACL Fest and overlapping with Levitation).

"Matt grew up in New Braunfels, and going to all the Oktoberfest stuff was a really big part of his Texas upbringing," explains Durniak, granddaughter of the late "Sister Bobbie" Nelson. "With the beer hall and carnival midway throughout the 10 days, we're really tapping into those fall fest, celebratory traditions.

"Every day is going to be a bit different, and we still have a lot to announce, performancewise."

Each day caters to a specific theme, including a cowboy-motif Outlaw Masquerade Ball, German-influenced "Luck-Oktoberfest," a Día de los Muertos Experience, the Black Opry Revue, an AAPI chef-celebrating Luck Night Market, and an LGBTQIA+ fashion show. Tanya Tucker, Sierra Ferrell, and Nikki Lane helm an all-women Saturday night, while the rest of the week hosts Orville Peck, Los Lobos, Sasami, Fantastic Negrito, Paul Cauthen, Bob Schneider, Alex Meixner, and Shinyribs. On Halloween, kids under 18 get in free to Matthew Logan Vasquez's "Luck-o-Lantern" for trick-or-treating.

"We're trying to represent different corners of Texas people might not always associate [with the state] looking from the outside in," adds Durniak. "Our tagline is 'Show Us Your Texas,' so we're bringing different community curators to help celebrate those cultures. We're showing every kind of Texas we can."

Durniak estimates some evenings may be even larger than Luck Reunion, the team's annual event during South by Southwest. Across nights, she expects a Lucktoberfest audience from 1,000 to 3,400. While tickets for the March Reunion are typically hard to come by, Lucktoberfest tickets are available now at Weeklong passes start at a very affordable $100, with daily tickets beginning at $35, in addition to $25 parking and $40 shuttle options.

"Lucktoberfest is an opportunity for more people to come experience the space, and make it a little more accessible and less stressful getting tickets," she says. "We're really excited that people who may not be able to get tickets for the Reunion can come and have an awesome time at the ranch without cursing their computer."

With Nelson himself not on the poster, we had to ask if Durniak's grand-uncle might perform at Lucktoberfest.

"We haven't planned on anything, but you honestly never know," she laughs. "We're taking up our landlord's property for 10 days, so we'll see."

Remembering Stewart Wise, Former Editor at the Chronicle and Contempo Culture

Leland "Stewart" Wise, former Austin Chronicle contributor, died July 12 in Boston, Massachusetts, following a battle with Parkinson's. He was 66. Editor of Austin's ambitious punk-era art and music fanzine Contempo Culture, Wise was an influential presence in the Central Texas music scene. Born in Lubbock, Texas, the punk intellectual lived in Austin from 1975 to 1981, where he started out writing for quintessential DIY outlet Sluggo! Wise returned to Austin from 1986 to 2001, during which he served as the Chronicle classical music editor for five years.

Stewart Wise (Photo by Donna Bratton)

In a typical deeply informed January 1993 Austin Symphony Orchestra recommendation, Wise wrote: "[Hungarian composer] Bartók's Concerto for Two Pianos, Percussion and Orchestra may seem hard to grasp at first, but it really is quite gorgeous. Repeated listenings might be necessary to fully absorb the richness and amazing complexity of the piece. It does require a bit of effort."

He was interviewed for the Chronicle's 2000 oral history of his friend Sterling Morrison of the Velvet Underground (revisit "Velvet Underdog," Music, March 17, 2000), as well as the book Let it Blurt: The Life & Times of Lester Bangs, America's Greatest Rock Critic. The Contempo Culture house, near UT, legendarily hosted a down-on-his-luck Bangs during his time in Austin. In other cultural connections, Wise's early interview with Patti Smith later appeared in the 2009 subculture-celebrating exhibit "Matt Stokes: These Are the Days" at the Arthouse at the Jones Center. He once ran into Smith, who he cited as changing his life with the album Horses, at the grave of Serge Gainsbourg in Paris.

A lover of travel and food, Wise also lived in London and New York City. He wrote a recipe blog called Goosefat: Beacon Hill Cookery at He made many friends while working locally at Spaghetti Warehouse, Dobie Screens, Waterloo Records, and Martin Brothers, as well as Dean & DeLuca and Whole Foods locations across the country. According to his obituary, a memorial will be held in the fall. Friends can leave tributes at Hamel-Lydon Chapel & Cremation Services of Massachusetts (

Founding Red River Cultural District Director Cody Cowan Moves to NIVA

Cody Cowan, executive director of the Red River Cultural District (RRCD) since 2015, has accepted a new position with the National Independent Venue Association (NIVA). A veteran of Emo's and longtime Mohawk general manager, Cowan will remain in Austin in his new role as NIVA's chief operating officer. In 2020, various Austin venues and promoters joined NIVA to support passage of federal COVID-19 relief funding. According to a NIVA press release, Cowan "will oversee the day-to-day operations ... to continue NIVA's role as the independent live industry and community champions."

Since its founding in 2015, the nonprofit RRCD has represented over 40 small businesses in the Downtown district, including many music venues. A frequent speaker at city meetings, Cowan will stay on through the end of the district's Hot Summer Nights festival – packing over 100 free-admission gigs August 4-6. The RRCD now launches a search for a new executive director. Nicole Klepadlo, formerly of the city's Economic Development Department, will lead during the transition.

Maya Hawke's Moss

Marlons in Austin

Stranger Things breakout Maya Hawke, joining much of the young cast's interest in indie music careers, released new single "Thérèse" earlier this month with Mom + Pop Music. Part of the Gen Z tide of nepotism baby admiration, the Netflix star is the daughter of Uma Thurman and Austin native Ethan Hawke. In the ethereal track, she sings: "She dreams of Marlon in Austin/ Their bodies tangled in a net." My friend Marlon Hedrick, musically of Turtle Pond/Tåsi, approached Marlon Sexton at a local house party dubbed "The Dale" last Friday to inquire if the lyric was about him. The latter Marlon, singer of Shooks and son of Charlie Sexton, slightly begrudgingly confirmed this reference. The Maya-Marlon connection tracks, as Sexton's famed musician dad worked with Ethan Hawke on the movie Blaze (and soon after launched the short-lived record label SexHawkeBlack with Chronicle co-founder Louis Black).

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