Exclusive: Aaron Franklin and partners bringing Hot Luck food and music festival to Austin in May

The founders of the forthcoming Hot Luck festival plan to blend world-class culinary talent, live music and a DIY Austin aesthetic for an extended weekend of serious fun and eats from people who don’t want anybody taking themselves too seriously.

James Beard Award winner Aaron Franklin, Fun Fun Fun Fest co-founder James Moody and Mike Thelin, co-founder of the food festival Feast Portland, have wedded their particular areas of expertise in food, music and production to form the event that will take place May 18-21 in Austin.

While it would be fair to call Hot Luck a festival, Moody uses lingo that resonates closely with many Texans to describe the multi-day event.

“It’s certainly going to be a big ol’ get-together. This is going to feel like the best-run tailgate you’ve ever been to. It’s going to be super organized behind the curtain, but it doesn’t feel that way. And it’s definitely ‘all are welcome,’” Moody said of the vibe, referencing the motto of the Mohawk, a bar and live music venue he co-founded in Austin 11 years ago.

Franklin Barbecue's Aaron Franklin (left) and Mohawk co-owner James Moody (right) are teaming up with Mike Thelin of Feast Portland to bring Hot Luck to Austin. (Credit: Matthew Odam)

Franklin Barbecue’s Aaron Franklin (left) and Mohawk co-owner James Moody (right) are teaming up with Mike Thelin of Feast Portland to bring Hot Luck to Austin. (Credit: Matthew Odam)

Hot Luck, its name evoking a potluck dinner and the heat that fuels Franklin’s trademark barbecue, as well as a subtle nod to legendary Texan Willie Nelson’s stomping grounds, will center around a main event featuring live-fire cooking. But the central activity is just the hub of a wheel that will spin off into multiple overlapping food and music events throughout the day and night, featuring about 35 chefs and friends of Franklin from Texas and across the country (and maybe a couple of international names) at 8 to 10 venues around town.

The founders want Hot Luck to mirror Feast in that there will be a sort of choose-your-own adventure nature to the fest, with people able to select activities a la carte throughout the weekend instead of being offered only one or two major attractions each day.

“A la carte ticketing allows an event to be engaged with by a wider and more diverse audience,” Thelin said. “If you want to buy an all-in pass to every Hot Luck event, there will be that option. But if you want to go to just one or two things, and spend the rest of your time enjoying the city, the region and all of the amazing restaurants, you can do that too.”

The one thing all of the Hot Luck events will have in common? A laid-back vibe and very little pomp and ceremony.

“The thing that is going to be super memorable about it is having amazing, world-class food on a paper plate,” Moody said. “And these chefs want to have a good time. They want to be around their peers and relax.”

“It’s meant to be kind of how we roll here in Austin …. Just hanging out drinking beers,” Franklin added.

And just because the man most synonymous with smoked meat in Central Texas is one of the founders, don’t expect Hot Luck to be a barbecue festival. Franklin said there may only be one barbecue cook on the invite list.

“I want to get people a little bit out of their comfort zones, but I really just want people to have fun and be able to be creative,” said Franklin, who will weld some custom cookery for the event. “People won’t feel pinned into a six-foot table and tasting portions. This is interactive.”

Moody and Franklin, who was the drummer in the visceral rock band Those Peabodys before being anointed the king of Central Texas barbecue, will curate the live music together, and they intend to program a schedule of shows that will have a little something for all musical tastes.

“We want the curation of music to be as thoughtful as the curation of the chefs,” Moody said.

Tickets for Hot Luck are slated to go on sale at the end of February. Pricing and specifics have not been finalized, but organizers said there will be a weekend package sold, as well as a la carte ticketing options. While some of the details around programming remain fluid, the founders, who have discussed creating such an event for years, are in tune with their guiding ethos.

“It’s much like when Franklin Barbecue started. That was super DIY. We made that place exactly how we wanted it; didn’t ask anyone. Don’t care, we’re doing what we want to do. You stand in line, you make friends, you drink some beers, you take your family there, you hang out, and you have a great time. And the hospitality level is hopefully off the charts,” Franklin said. “It’s not just about food; it’s about that whole experience.”


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