Photo from Hot Luck Austin.

Prime rib galore roasting on spits at the Hot Luck Festival in Austin.

Austin’s inaugural Hot Luck Festival of food and music in May attracted 6,500 “patrons,” according to a recent release from the organizers.

“Patrons” is an interesting term. In broad form, it includes paying customers as well as those who don't pay admission, such as guests, clients, sponsors and friends. At Hot Luck’s food events, based on my observations, there were a lot of non-paying attendees.

In a follow up email, I asked Courtney Knittel, handling Hot Luck’s public relations, for a breakdown of attendance between the music and food venues and how many of the total number of patrons were non-paying? I also asked how much money from the proceeds of the event had Hot Luck donated to its designated charity, The SAFE Alliance?

Courtney said the release was all the information for now, “will keep you posted as more information becomes available.”

The Hot Luck Festival was founded by barbecue maestro Aaron Franklin, marketing guru James Moody and Mike Thelin, a founder of Feast Portland, a similar event in the Oregon city.

“By all accounts, this event exceeded our expectations,” Moody said in the release.

He continued: “Our aim was to create a true-to-Texas event that didn't feel like a festival, but more like all of the tailgates, road trips, dive bars and family reunions that we love so much. This was way too fun not to do again. We do see great potential for Hot Luck so stay tuned. . .”

Photo from Hot Luck Austin.

Aaron Franklin poses for a photo with Libby Jacobson Gagne during night two of Hot Luck Austin. (Photos ©Gary Jacobson/Texas BBQ Posse)

As someone who paid for two all-access passes, I agree with Moody. It was a fun time with a very relaxed vibe at all of the venues.

Seeing Aaron Franklin in classic food-server garb, including hair net, on night two was a highlight. As was eating his great pot roast, which he based on his grandparents’ recipe.

There were no lines — or very short ones — at all of the food and drink stations over the three nights. The overall atmosphere was, as Moody says, like a tailgate, or big party, allowing ample opportunity to talk to many of the participating chefs, especially on nights they were not serving.

“Imagine you’re a meat guy in Austin and you don’t do smoke,” ruminated Ben Runkle of Austin’s Salt & Time, in a small group at Fair Market. Not a bad opening to start a conversation.

As Moody, Franklin, and Thelin go forward, however, they face a delicate balance to maintain that relaxed atmosphere. They'd undoubtedly like to attract more patrons, but long lines for food ruin a party. And how much music is too much at a festival where the main events are really about eating?

Since it began in 2012, attendance at Feast Portland, which is all about food and drink, has increased from about 9,000 to more than 16,000 last year, according to the Portland Business Journal.

This year’s Feast is scheduled for September and the Franklin Barbecue event there is already sold out, according to Feast Portland’s Web site.

A pass to all of the main events in Portland is $570, about the cost of all-access pass to the Hot Luck Festival. The Portland package does not include hands-on classes, a dinner series and smaller events.

Given Thelin’s involvement in Hot Luck, it wouldn’t be surprising to see similar smaller events added to the Austin festival. But with that comes some risk of altering the tailgate, road trip, family reunion feeling that Moody likes so much.

Stay tuned, indeed.

Photo of Hot Luck Austin sign

As night falls, the Hot Luck Austin sign shines at Franklin Barbecue. (Photo ©Gary Jacobson/Texas BBQ Posse)

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