Unofficial SXSW event takes music lovers to the old west in Willie style
Away from the SXSW crowds and lines that will envelope downtown Austin for the next week is a serene setting in the Texas Hill Country that will make you feel like you’ve stepped back in time — to the Old West.
Willie Nelson had the town known as Luck built on his property in Spicewood more than 25 years ago, and it’s since been used as a set for several movies, including “Red Headed Stranger.” Few have had the privilege of seeing the tiny western town — it’s behind a large gate that surrounds the property and is only opened to friends, family and neighbors once a year for an Easter service in the intimate chapel. Those gates will be open once again on March 15 during an unofficial SXSW party.
“Heartbreaker Banquet” is the brainchild of Matt Bizer, Will Rimmer (of production company Robot Fondue) and musician Jonny Burke. Last year, Bizer and Burke threw together a last minute event during SXSW at an Austin coffee shop and had a full house of about 200 people. This year they decided they wanted to take their time to create something bigger and better.
With partner Electric Lady Studios - the New York recording studio started by Jimi Hendrix - and sponsor fashion designer John Varvatos, the unique event will welcome about 750 people lucky enough to get a ticket to Luck.
“We’ve had a lot of things that moved towards this idea of let’s make it really intimate and semi-exclusive,” Bizer explains.
He says he also hopes "Heartbreaker Banquet" provides some relief and relaxation from the regular hustle and bustle that goes along with SXSW.
“The chaos of downtown Austin during South-by — we were like let’s have an event that’s the opposite of that. Serene.”
So far, the lineup of handpicked artists also includes Blitzen Trapper, Ray Wylie Hubbard, Father John Misty, James McMurtry, Shovels & Rope, Jenny O., Phosphorescent and more than half a dozen others.
Enter Willie’s western town, a short dirt road set amongst cacti and horses, with western themed buildings including a jail and an opry house.
“It’s got a great vibe. An awesome presence. As soon as you arrive there you can just feel the positive energy,” Burke says.
And the guys are positive they can harness that energy to create an experience that is uniquely Texas — featuring a musical mix of up and comers and some Texas legends.
“We came in with the idea of this juxtaposition of legendary artists meeting younger artists… It’s all somehow tied back to either roots music or classic rock ‘n’ roll music,” Burke explains.
"Heartbreaker Banquet" will have acts on two stages — one group of artists will play intimate acoustic sets inside the chapel that only seats about 50 people in rustic pews. The headliner on the main “Medicine Show” stage at the opposite end of the dusty road is Gary Clark Jr.
So far, the lineup of handpicked artists also includes Blitzen Trapper, Ray Wylie Hubbard, Father John Misty, James McMurtry, Shovels & Rope, Jenny O., Phosphorescent and more than half a dozen others. Co-organizer Jonny Burke will also play the main stage and is using the event as a launch party of sorts for his new record.
Bizer says the western town will also be lined with its share of Austin-based food trailers, beverage stands, a hat maker and a rock photography exhibit. The organizers are even offering bus services from several locations downtown to get everyone to Luck.
Bizer says no matter the location, he hopes to be able to make a party of this sort a yearly event.
“We actually want to be able to create a long lasting fun unique experience where a lot of these bands have a chance to play to an audience that feels really lucky to be there and really enjoys it.”
Though it’s doubtful he’ll show up, Bizer says Willie has an open invitation to attend and he hopes he stops by!
The first ten CultureMap readers to go to this link and enter the password culturemap1 will get their names on the Heartbreaker Banquet guest list! For other chances to get on the list or to learn more about the event, check out the Heartbreaker Banquet website or Facebook page or you can follow the event on Twitter @HBbanquet. The gate opens at 2 p.m. on March 15 and bands start at 3 p.m.