Looking back at the Luckenbach World’s Fair
The vicious nature of current political discourse makes me nauseous. We have lost, temporarily I hope, the ability to laugh at ourselves and each other. What this self-righteous world needs is some inspired silliness.
I miss the Luckenbach World’s Fair.
The World’s Fair began as a hair-brained idea in the minds of Luckenbach’s owners, Hondo Crouch and Guich Koock, but as usual with those guys, the initial idea was only a point of departure, followed by a hard left turn, into a bizarre world of humorous nonsense.
“We’re planning on 20,000 to 30,000 people this first year,” Koock stated, tongue in cheek, when announcing the first World’s Fair in the summer of 1973.
The town, of course, wasn’t equipped to handle anything more than a small wedding party. Five cars in town at one time caused a bottleneck. Luckenbach was not designed for modern vehicular traffic.
At least there was hope that the Luckenbach parking meter, an important source of city revenue, would get a workout. Not that anyone ever paid to park in Luckenbach but every once in a while a drunk cowboy dropped a quarter in — thinking it was a slot machine.
Guich and Hondo dreamed up the World’s Fair as an elaborate joke, hoping to bring some business to their little town, but the joke backfired: 10,000 people showed up.
The store ran out of beer. There weren’t enough toilets — or trees.
People, as it turned out, were longing for a little foolishness in a world way too serious for its own good.
The political atmosphere in 1973 was strangely similar to our current mess. Richard Nixon and Watergate dominated the news. The country was politically polarized. America needed a diversion.
And so the news of the World’s Fair spread like gossip at the beauty parlor. Newspapers all over the Southwest picked up the story.
The first World’s Fair had an art show featuring Fredericksburg artist Charles Beckendorf and Jim Franklin of Austin. Franklin painted surreal posters pf prairie schooners inside Lone Star Beer bottles.
But the Luckenbach World’s Fair was more than an art show. It was part Animal House and part Willie’s Picnic.
In addition to music and beer, there was a tobacco spitting contest — judged on distance and accuracy — and a buffalo chip tossing contest.
The crowd, as a whole, was well-behaved.
“At least,” Guich Koock reported, “there wasn’t much beer drinking during Sunday morning gospel singing.”
There was talk of a second World’s Fair in 1974, but the Luckenbach Chamber of Commerce decided against it. The hangover from the first one lasted longer than expected.
The first-year crowd was so big it scared the livestock. The cows stopped giving milk, and the chickens quit laying eggs. The guineas disappeared entirely.
So after a year hiatus, Crouch and Koock staged the second semi-annual Luckenbach World’s Fair at the old Fair Grounds in Fredericksburg. In addition to music, drinking, spitting and tossing, there was a championship chicken flying contest, a laughing contest and thoroughbred armadillo races.
Hondo Crouch was the perfect host. As one visitor put it, “Just looking at Hondo put you in a good mood.”
No one knew what to expect from Hondo. One day he showed up in a suit. Said he ran out of dirty clothes.
After one more year in Fredericksburg, the World’s Fair moved back to Luckenbach. In addition to the usual events there was a new contest called the “Back Door Races.”
At the sound of a shotgun, four contestants, dressed in their underwear, had to jump out of bed and put on their pants. The first one through the window was the winner.
There were disappointments. The Russian Olympic Team never made it. They were entered in the vodka chugging contest. Technically they weren’t no-shows since they never responded to the official invitation.
The last Luckenbach World’s Fair was in 1981. By then Hondo died and Guich had gone to purgatory (aka Hollywood).
Meanwhile the world turned serious. We lost our appreciation for the absurd.
I hope we get it back.
Michael Barr is a retired
teacher and principal, living in
Fredericksburg where he spends
time writing books, columns and
magazine articles. Contact him at email@example.com.