Inside Luck Reunion’s 11th Hour Streaming Success

Courtesy of Luck Reunion
– ‘Til Further Notice
Paul Simon, Edie Brickell, daughter Lulu Simon and Woody Harrelson’s performance was a highlight of this year’s Luck Reunion, but took place far from the event’s usual locale at Willie Nelson’s ranch near Austin.

Willie Nelson’s Luck Reunion, the eclectic day-long festival the revered country artist hosts annually at his ranch just outside of Austin, Texas, the week of South By Southwest, has become an institution since its 2012 launch.

But this year’s highlight – a riveting rendition of The Everly Brothers’ “All I Have To Do Is Dream” by Paul Simon, Edie Brickell, their daughter Lulu Simon and actor Woody Harrelson – took place far from the Lone Star State. 

Most of the event did. Simon and company transmitted their performance from his Maui estate as far-flung artists including Lucinda Williams, Jewel, Kurt Vile and Margo Price united to digitally recreate Luck following the physical event’s postponement in the wake of coronavirus.  Broadcast March 19 on Twitch as “’Til Further Notice,” the program captured Luck’s enduring spirit and demonstrated the potential of streaming events.

“It was definitely a rollercoaster of emotion and chaos,” Luck co-founder Ellee Fletcher says of the event that was conceived and executed in one week after Travis County mandated the physical gig’s cancellation. 

The Luck team went into damage control, canceling a $100,000 liquor order for the event in the nick of time, but then pivoted.

“The biggest hit we were going to take, beyond financial, was just morale, how it’s affecting the community and everything else,” fellow co-founder Matt Bizer says. “So we just started talking.”

Bizer, Fletcher and their team began booking the event in earnest on March 16, just three days before it broadcast.

“It took us a day to sort of educate managers and agents and artists,” says Bizer, recalling initial skepticism when he said artists would perform via Skype and then be patched into the Twitch stream.

But “once we got over the hump of telling people how to do it … the concept really struck a chord with people,” Fletcher explains.

News of the gig spread like wildfire, soon reaching artists who hadn’t even been billed for its physical iteration. Indie-pop duo and Luck alums Lucius weren’t slated to appear at South By in 2020, but agreed to participate in ‘Til Further Notice after Luck reached out, streaming remotely with Courtney Barnett.

“It was a no-brainer to be doing something to give people some joy in this time of great disappointment and shock,” says Lucius’ Jess Wolfe.

If anything, artist enthusiasm almost overwhelmed organizers, who “were turning down artists during the stream,” Bizer says. 

Most of them, at least. During the broadcast, Lukas Nelson texted Bizer and Fletcher that Neil Young was recording something, and Luck shuffled the schedule accordingly. Says Bizer: “We got Neil’s submissions, like, literally in the middle of the stream.”

Impromptu latecomers like Young and periodic technical snafus made for a chaotic evening, but musician and actor Ray Benson tied it together with clutch, off-the-cuff hosting. (On April 1, Benson announced he tested positive for COVID-19 but “should be in the clear in the coming weeks.”)

“We just let him take it, and take it he did,” says Fletcher, who posted up with Benson in a room at Austin’s Arlyn Studios, the headquarters for Luck’s production team. “He did us such a huge favor, and we’re super appreciative.”

Like many livestreams spawned by the coronavirus crisis, ‘Til Further Notice also had a charitable element. Twitch, a readymade partner for Luck given parent company Amazon’s pre-existing affiliation with the event, brought plenty of nifty bells and whistles to the table, and the most consequential was a seamlessly integrated virtual tip jar. 

Viewers were encouraged to “pass the boot” – an homage to bootmaker and Luck sponsor Tecovas, which had originally planned to have boots on every bar at the event to fundraise for nonprofits – to help performers recoup income lost from a lack of touring. Proceeds exceeded $200,000 and were split evenly; several of the more well-off acts donated their cuts to charities of their choice.

The opt-in approach also allowed Luck to keep the stream free for cash-strapped fans who still wanted to tune in, ultimately yielding mammoth numbers. The original broadcast averaged 63,000 concurrent viewers between Twitch and Facebook, which simulcast the gig, and at its peak that ballooned to 78,000. The broadcast garnered 2.2 million live views, and hit 2.5 million after it was rebroadcast.

“Right now is the time to work together versus separately, because there’s so many people doing stuff that you can group up and work together,” Bizer says. “It allows a centralized audience and focuses people, versus hundreds of tiny streams from everybody’s Instagram. Now is the time to band together with those communities that you have.”

Sound advice, even if you’re thousands of miles apart.