Growing up in Ithaca, I'm fairly certain that there were only 4 fans of Hondo Crouch within a 500 mile radius. Luckily for me, the other three lived with me. My folks, who had been Jerry Jeff Walker fans from their own youth, passed that along to me and my sister as part of our cultural inheritance. Along with Jerry Jeff came the rest of Outlaw Country - Willie, Waylon, Merle, etc. This was not country music that sparkled. It was storytelling that had earned its way to the blues. And if Nashville was the center of pop country, my kind of country had an epicenter too -- about an hour an a half northwest of Austin, in little Luckenbach, Texas.
Luckenbach has been around for a long time, but today's version came into existence in 1971 when Hondo Crouch saw an ad in the paper saying only, "Town --pop. 3-- for sale". He was smart enough to recognize an opportunity, and so he bought the town and made himself Mayor. From there, Luckenbach became the stuff of legend, sort of like Texas's answer to Garrison Keiller's Lake Wobegon. How and why Luckenbach became what it is today is probably up for some debate, but certainly the driving force behind it was Hondo's personality. He was a brilliant writer and poet whose Cedar Creek Clippings created a way for people to dream about the simple life as the world around them became increasingly complex. Luckenbach as he projected it was Winesburg, Ohio, minus all of the people and all of the problems they bring. But Luckenbach wasn't small, because it was really more an idea than a place. His great poem, Luckenbach Moon, encapsulated the whole idea of Luckenbach nearly perfectly, and the closing lines stuck with me for years:
We have such a big moon
For such a small town.
For years, I identified myself as a Luckenbach, Texan. My Orvis fly rod growing up had a bumper sticker on the outside of the case saying "Everybody's Somebody in Luckenbach". So you can imagine my excitement when a good friend of mine bought a ranch a few miles down the road from Luckenbach at the end of last year. After receiving a number of texts about the various happenings on the ranch, Nina and I decided to take the boys down there for New Years.
We built model rockets. We canoed down the Guadalupe River. Jack and Max rode on a bull. And, of course, we went to Luckenbach. It was the boys first introduction to live country music, and I can’t think of a better way to indoctrinate them than listening to Thomas Micheal Riley in the Luckenbach Dance Hall on a Sunday afternoon, interspersed with multiple explorations up the local creek looking for frogs and fish – since asking a 3 year-old and a 6 year-old to sit through a long concert is kind of like asking a nun to smoke a carton of cigarettes.
For New Year’s Eve, Thomas Michael and his band came over to play at the ranch. The dinner was great. The music was better, and afterwards we had a big time, Texas style. All in all, it was about as close to a perfect week as you can get.
So as we sat on the plane on the way home, Nina and I discussed how to thank our friends for putting this all together and helping us introduce our children to something that had been so important to me during my own childhood. Material things didn’t seem to make a whole lot of sense. And how do you send flowers with a straight face to a family who lives on a hundred acres of Texas Hill Country? So I decided to write a poem in the style of Hondo’s own writing, leaning on both his poems and his syndicated Cedar Creek Clippings. We then had it matted and framed around pictures of the 11 kids doing various activities on the ranch over the week. Who knows if they’ll like it. Poems are a tricky business. But in much the same way that throwing a baseball around in the fading sunlight of a summer afternoon can make you feel like a kid again, sometimes writing in the style of an old friend can perform the same magic.