On December 15, 1847, a petition was submitted to create Gillespie County. In 1848, the Texas Legislature formed Gillespie County from Bexar and Travis counties. While the signers were overwhelmingly German immigrants, names also on the petition were Castillo, Peña, Muños, and a handful of non-German Anglo names.
Its oldest building is a combination general store and saloon reputedly opened in 1849 (1886 is more likely based on land improvement records of the Texas State Library and Archives Commission) by Minna Engel, whose father was an itinerant minister from Germany. The community, first named Grape Creek, was later named after Engel’s husband, Carl Albert Luckenbach, who was then her fiancé. They would later move to another town which became Albert, Texas. Luckenbach was first established as a community trading post, one of a few that never broke a peace treaty with the Comanche Indians, with whom they traded.
Citizens of the town claim a resident (Jacob Brodbeck) launched the first airplane years before the Wright Brothers.
Luckenbach’s population increased to a high of 492 in 1904, but by the 1960s, it was almost a ghost town. A newspaper advertisement offering “town — pop. 3 — for sale” led Hondo Crouch, a rancher and Texas folklorist, to buy Luckenbach for $30,000 in 1970, in partnership with Kathy Morgan and actor Guich Koock. Crouch used the town’s rights as a municipality to govern the dance hall as he saw fit.
Today Luckenbach maintains a ghost-town feel with its small population and strong western aesthetic. One of its two main buildings houses the remnants of a post office, a working saloon, and a general store. The other is the dance hall. The post office was closed on April 30, 1971 and its zip code (78647) was retired. The general store remains active as a souvenir shop where visitors can purchase a variety of items, including merchandise featuring the town’s motto “Everybody’s Somebody in Luckenbach”include postcards, T-shirts, sarcastic and humorous signs, and the local newspaper, the 8-page monthly Luckenbach Moon.
The dance hall in Luckenbach
Luckenbach’s association with country music began in the summer of 1973 when Jerry Jeff Walker, backed by the Lost Gonzo Band, recorded the live album Viva Terlingua at the Luckenbach dance hall. The album became an outlaw country classic.
Four years later (and a year after Crouch’s death), Waylon Jennings and Willie Nelson memorialized Luckenbach with the song “Luckenbach, Texas (Back to the Basics of Love)”, co-written by rock and soul record producer Chips Moman and keyboardist Bobby Emmons. In his 2000 book Are You Ready for the Country?, author Peter Doggett recalls that Jennings later told audiences that “he hated the song and (had) admitted ‘The guys that wrote the thing have never been to Luckenbach. Neither have I.'” Jennings eventually played a show in Luckenbach on July 4, 1997. Country rock artists Kenny Chesney and Kid Rock later covered the Jennings/Nelson song as a duet. It has also been recorded by musician/actor Christian Kane. Notable concert appearances in the town include Jennings, Nelson, Pat Green, Robert Earl Keen, and Lyle Lovett. The community remains an active home to country music.
Guinness World Record
“Pickin’ for the Record” was a fundraiser held in Luckenbach on August 23, 2009, for the organization Voices of a Grateful Nation. The Guinness world record was broken for the most guitar players gathered at one time to play (continuously for at least five minutes). The Luckenbach record broke the standing German record by 50, with the official count at 1868. The day before the Texas event, Elvis Presley’s guitar player made a similar attempt in Louisiana but only signed up 800 pickers.
Luckenbach hosts live music events each weekend. On Sundays, it is common for visitors to bring instruments and take turns performing informally with others in the crowd. Occasionally, local and regional celebrities drop by. There are recreational vehicle camping spots nearby, along with a small creek. Areas are also set up for washer pitching.