On Friday morning we arrived in Fredericksburg, the popular tourist center of the central Texas Hill Country. After 2 months of always dry and mostly flat desert, we were finally among trees and rolling hills. Not the white peaks and green valleys of British Columbia, but a welcome change. We stopped at the tourist office and asked our usual litany of questions. The unusually uptight Texas host gave us unimpassioned answers about everything until I asked about Luckenbach and her eyes lit up. Although the annual Mud Dauber Festival and Chili Cook Off (what?) wasn’t happening until the following day, she said that Friday nights were free at Luckenbach and that she was going herself. Such a ringing endorsement from an otherwise conservative lady sounded good to us.
We arrived in the late afternoon, parking our motorhome in the huge field slash parking lot. We found a cool grassy spot along the trees where we could stay overnight. Not knowing what to expect, we scouted across the field and around the small cluster of buildings. Several guitar players were picking unplugged under a tree while chickens roosted precariously among the branches above (who knew that chickens could climb trees?). People seated at outdoor picnic tables were drinking beer. A bride that we’d seen in Fredericksburg earlier in the day was having her photos taken in the late afternoon sun. Among the few buildings we found the empty dance hall which confirmed our decision to stay for the night.
Luckenbach, Texas is a unique place. Established in 1849 as the centerpiece of the new Gillespie County, by 1904 its population had only grown to 492, and by the 1960’s, it was almost a ghost town. An ad ran in the newspaper offering, “Town – Population 3 – For Sale”. In 1970 Hondo Crouch, a rancher and Texas folklorist, bought the whole of Luckenbach for $30,000. He used the town’s rights as a municipality to govern the dance hall as he saw fit.
In 1975, Waylon Jennings and Willie Nelson immortalized Luckenbach with the song “Luckenbach, Texas (Back to the Basics of Love)”. I remembered just one lyric from this mellow country song of my childhood, “Down in Luckenbach, Texas, ain’t nobody feelin’ no pain”. Tonight’s musical group was named The Almost Patsy Cline Band, apparently popular among the locals, but unbeknownst to us. After a quick dinner back in the motorhome, we returned to find the dance hall packed. The benches lining the long tables were almost full, but we squeezed into the middle of the throng. We shared a table with several other couples, all keen to dance and have fun.
The music started and the dance floor filled instantly. There was none of the typical shyness while people wait for others to dance first and the emboldening effects of alcohol to kick in. Folks were clearly there to dance. It was intimidating. Although Diane had a long skirt on, without cowboy boots, we were clearly underdressed. The dancing couples swarmed around the floor in a counter-clockwise rotation, raising the minimum requirement for dance floor participation above that of a basic, stationary 2-Step.
When I was 19 years old, I found myself alone on a Friday night in a small town bar in Fort Saskatchewan, Alberta. The details of how this came about apparently aren’t important enough for me to remember, but aren’t essential to the story. I was dragged out on to the dance floor by a young woman who was there with her friends. Little did she know that I was a city slicker from Vancouver, and completely unprepared for what she was about to do to me – the 2-Step. She told me that she was getting married the following day, and quickly trained me to dance. It was probably the only time that I’ve done the 2-Step correctly or since then.
In Luckenbach, all the dances were the 2-Step, with the occasional waltz or polka thrown in. Diane and I crossed our fingers and leapt into the action. We survived the first dance and soon had the hang of it. The serious dancers at our table said we were doing well. For one of these couples this was their 3rd of 4 nights of dancing in a row! Soon we were into the swing of things, dancing as much as sitting, and sitting more than drinking.
Later in the evening, a single, older, blond lady joined our group. She asked me to dance, and pulled me onto the dance floor. I was suddenly 19 again, back in the bar in Fort Saskatchewan. I hung on and tried to keep up as we spun around the dance floor. I think that I did O.K. for a guy wearing Keens, but you’d have to check with her.
Diane and I enjoyed ourselves until the very last song. Other than the occasional wedding, it’s very rare for us to spend an evening dancing. We had a great time, ‘down in Luckenbach, Texas’.