Each year of Heartbreaker Banquet, the burning question swirling around the dusty road that runs through the center of Luck, Texas is, "Do you think Willie will show up?" Most people who ask know, though it’s not likely, it is a possibility, especially since Nelson owns the rustic western town (originally built as a film set), and his home is just a few miles away.
The ever-growing crowd at this unique event held during SXSW got a slightly unexpected surprise at Thursday's event: a set by the Red Headed Stranger himself. Speculation grew as the day went on and organizers hinted at "surprises" to mark the event’s third anniversary.
With many buzzed by the free alcohol, the warm afternoon sun and the amazing Americana-soaked lineup that included Shovels and Rope, Elle King, Hurray for the Riff Raff, The Felice Brothers, Sons of Fathers, The Wild Feathers, Lukas Nelson and Promise of the Real, Lucius, and Shakey Graves, Nelson’s entrance at the end of the night seemed surreal.
The dispersed crowd quickly swarmed the Medicine Show Stage, elated by the vision of the legendary music man. His performance capped a day of country, roots and Americana music by a mix of up-and-coming and established artists; it was the perfect ending to an always unique musical experience that’s become, well, legendary.
Organizers of the quaint day-long musical feast — Robot Fondue and Electric Lady Studios — clearly have their fingers on the pulse of the music scene, seemingly able to spot talent whose careers are about to explode (think Gary Clark Jr., Valerie June, Phosphorescent). While Nelson is not in need of a career boost, he’s long been a vocal supporter of the type of young talent featured at Heartbreaker Banquet.
For three years, Nelson has welcomed strangers onto his property to share in an unforgettable musical experience. His surprise performance brought a whole new meaning and authenticity to the phrase "playing for the hometown crowd." No doubt it’s a day many lucky music fans will not soon forget.