Hot Luck founders (left to right) James Moody, Aaron Franklin and Mike Thelin with “Hi, How Are You?” guest of honor Daniel Johnston. (Credit: Pooneh Ghana)

Hot Luck founders Aaron Franklin, James Moody and Mike Thelin had described their vision for their first festival as something akin to a laid-back tailgate with world-class food. They wanted it to be a cool hang with friends, where having fun was the only thing taken seriously.

If the mood of the crowds, chefs and founders is any indication, the trio must consider their first festival a huge success. Hot Luck bookended its two main events on Friday night at Fair Market and Saturday night at the pastoral Onion Creek Ranch with a few VIP food-and-drink events and scattered musical programming throughout. The festival benefited from the synergy of the three partners, with Thelin’s production experience, Moody’s branding and vibe-curation expertise, and Franklin’s easygoing personality and strong relationships in the culinary world combining for a unique event unlike any I’ve experienced in Austin.

From cold Lone Stars sitting in wheelbarrows full of ice, to classic country records being spun for the Onion Creek crowd, and a plethora of Stetson Open Roads serving as prevailing fashion statements, the events definitely buzzed on an Old Austin frequency, with a little bit of rock ‘n roll thrown in to even the mix. Chefs were spotted drinking at music events around town, and musicians hung out with festival goers and one another at each of the several food events.

“I’ve been in the festival business for over a decade, and one thing that I know is that first year events rarely happen this way,” Moody said. “It feels like we have something special on our hands.”

Below are some highlights — from drinks to people, sounds to ideas — that I dug about Hot Luck.

Daniel Johnston at Hot Luck’s “Hi, How Are You?” (Credit: Jackie Young)

Guest of honor. Daniel Johnston made an appearance at Thursday night’s “Hi, How Are You?” He didn’t take the stage, but just seeing the legendary musician in good spirits, sipping a soda and chatting up some festival attendees was great.

Jon Favreau, Roy Choi, James Moody, Mike Thelin and Aaron Franklin at “Hi, How Are You?” (Credit: Alison Narro)

Celebs, they’re just like us. “Iron Man” and “Chef” director Jon Favreau helped Los Angeles celebrity chef and trailer impresario Roy Choi prepare his Korean ribs for “Hi, How Are You?” And, despite his high profile the foodie and friend of Aaron Franklin pretty much blended in with all of the other food lovers.  (Check out photos and a recap of the night here.)

Texas Monthly barbecue editor Daniel Vaughn. (Credit: Matthew Odam AMERICAN-STATESMAN)

Double threat. Texas Monthly barbecue editor Daniel Vaughn served arguably the best bite at the Thursday event, with his smoked NY strip tacos served with a brilliant Texas chimichurri that included pickles and onions caramelized in beef fat. He also had the added advantage of homemade tortillas from Miguel Vidal of Valencia’s Tex-Mex BBQ

Olympia Provisions’s Elias Cairo and Alex Yoder were just two of the folks who made the trip from Portland along with festival co-founder Mike Thelin and his team. (Credit: Pooneh Ghana)

Portlandia. The incomparable charcuterie from Olympia Provisions of Portland, Oregon. Among salumist Elias Cairo’s excellent creations, a salami aged simply with salt to a funky perfection and a Spanish chorizo that tasted like hugging your Greek grandfather.

Aaron Franklin rocks the cafeteria look at Hi Lo. (Credit: Matthew Odam AMERICAN-STATESMAN)

Host with the most. Aaron Franklin wanted Friday’s Hi Lo event to be a tribute to the food that got the chefs excited about food. Not only did he cook the best pot roast with mashed potatoes I’ve ever had, an homage to his grandmother, he and wife, Stacy Franklin, dressed in homemade cafeteria-worker outfits, complete with hairnets, and worked the crowd all evening at Hi Lo. For those who ever wondered if the aw-shucksish personality of the James Beard winner was authentic, Franklin left no doubt as he shook hands and engaged in conversation with attendees and chefs throughout the night. 

Onion Creek Ranch. I’d never attended an event there before, but the pastoral setting, beautiful skies, hay-strewn field (to mitigate dampness) and longhorns (actual animals) provided a perfect bucolic setting for cowboy cooking. And the school bus ride from the Akins High School parking lot added a nice retro touch.

The peppered beef tongue from chef Adam Perry Lang. (Credit: Matthew Odam AMERICAN-STATESMAN)

Stereotype slaying. You hear the words “barbecue” and “Los Angeles” and you might scoff. You’d be a fool. Chef Adam Perry Lang moved from fine dining to smoked meats, and his lush peppered beef tongue with mustard and spicy pickles at Al Fuego, shows that the classically trained French chef can work a smoker with the best of them. Best bite I had Saturday night.

Pok Pok (Portland) chef Andy Ricker brought the Northern Thai flavors to Al Fuego. (Credit: Matthew Odam AMERICAN-STATESMAN)

Pleased to meat you. Al Fuego was an embarrassment of riches, and as a stand-alone would have to be considered the best food event I’ve ever attended. There was almost too much food. And I got the feeling that these chefs wanted to step up their game to try and match the reputation of its famous barbecue cook and welding host. People weren’t serving dainty bites on crackers or radicchio leaves. They were intensely flavorful, solid portions served by affable chefs with very few waits for food. I could name a dozen, as I didn’t have a disappointing bite, but in short order, some highlights: Dai Due’s Jesse Griffith was as giddy as a kid in cowboy boots, cooking lamb suadero tacos on a custom-made cooker; Kemuri’s grilled pork jowl proved them worthy of all their recent praise; Emmer & Rye’s Kevin Fink showed that a tortilla is the most important part of a taco, with his flavorful olotillo corn tortilla (made with water, salt and corn only); chef Andrew Wiseheart of Contigo got creative with a rotisserie cooked ribeye used for mini-cheesesteaks; you could smell the pungent tang of Portland chef Andy Ricker’s (Pok Pok) khaw mu yang and sai ua before you even got to the table; and Rebecca Masson of Fluff Bake Bar in Houston taught me how to deep fry ice cream.

Festival goer Adi Anand cools off with a drink at Al Fuego. (Credit: Matthew Odam)

Whiskey. Food festivals (and music festivals for that matter) never have a shortage of beer, wine and usually vodka or tequila. But when I’m drinking food cooked over an open fire, I want whisky. Buffalo Trace obliged at Al Fuego.

Robert Ellis rocks country tunes and a country look at White Horse. (Credit Jackie Young)

Music. The after-shows were a perfect opportunity to keep the party going following the evening food events (because who wants to go home after the party’s just gotten started?), and the evening events featured DJs spinning music that served as an awesome complement to the nighttime events. The Black Lips had everything you’d want in a rock show Friday at Barracuda: power, energy, raw sexuality, and artists falling into a delirious crowd. Robert Ellis made a brilliant decision in playing to the crowd at White Horse Saturday night, picking up on Heart & Soul Sound System’s vibe at Al Fuego, with a set of classic country covers. Harlan Howard’s “Heartache by the Numbers” is almost 60 years old, but it felt super fresh at Hot Luck’s closing set. It was like the soundtrack of Franklin Barbecue come to life.

“This was way too fun not to do again. We do see great potential for Hot Luck so stay tuned, and thanks for y’all’s support,” Moody said following the festival. (Credit: Alison Narro)


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