A Hot Luck Q&A with Aaron Franklin
The co-founder of the Austin food and music festival is back and ready to mingle over a weekend of live fire food, drink and music
By Laurel Miller
Photos by Alison Narro, Pooneh Ghana and Chad Wadsworth, courtesy of Hot Luck
After a two-year hiatus for obvious reasons, Hot Luck — Austin’s fiesta of food and music — is back for its (time warp alert) fifth year. The three-day event is the brainchild of Aaron Franklin, Guerilla Suit principal James Moody and Mike Thelin, of Feast Portland, with the goal of celebrating live music and the pleasures of down-home dining.
This year’s event is again on Memorial Day weekend (May 26–29), and while all-inclusive tickets for the Whole Enchilada and tickets for Friday night’s “Hi, How Are You?” at Franklin BBQ are sold out, there’s still availability for Thursday’s “Giddy Up” party at Mohawk and Saturday’s signature “Al Fuego” live fire-cooking extravaganza at Wild Onion Ranch in Manchaca.
Franklin says Hot Luck was inspired by “tailgates, family reunions, backyard barbecues and potlucks,” as well as cooking with live fire. Consider it the anti-food festival: instead of sold-out seminars, tight schedules and crowded cooking demonstrations from some of the nation’s best-known chefs and pastry chefs, there’s a laid back, choose-your-own-adventure vibe, with various events happening at venues around Austin.
This year’s music lineup includes Superchunk, Shannon and The Clams, DJ Jazzy Jeff and more. You’ll want to save room for snacks from dozens of chefs, including Austin’s Michael Fojtasek, Kevin Fink, Tavel Bristol-Joseph, Evan LeRoy, Edgar Rico, Susana Querejazu, Yoshi Okai, Todd Duplechan and Tracy Malechek-Ezekiel, along with Chris Shepherd (Underbelly, Houston), Shota Nakajima (Taku, Seattle), Stuart Brioza (The Anchovy Bar, San Francisco), Alon Shaya (Saba, New Orleans), Diego Galicia and Rico Torres (Mixtli, San Antonio), Donny Sirisavath (Khao Noodle Shop, Dallas), Ashleigh Shanti (Good Hot Fish, Asheville), José Enrique (José Enrique, San Juan, Puerto Rico), John Tesar (Knife, Dallas), Nicola Blaque (The Jerk Shack, San Antonio), Sarah Grueneberg (Monteverde, Chicago) and Chris Bianco (Pizzeria Bianco, Phoenix).
Tribeza talked to Franklin to find out more about what to expect at this year’s Hot Luck, and his tips for getting through the weekend. Hint: It’s a marathon, not a sprint. Look for our “How to Hot Luck” guide, coming next week.
So, what have you been up to these last two years?
AF: Let’s see. I grew out my hair, but then I realized they didn’t make hair nets big enough to contain it, so I cut it. Other than that, I’ve been restoring an old house and trying to keep the restaurant alive.
Well, we’re very happy it — and you — lived.
AF: Yeah, I guess the timing worked out well for me, personally, to get things done at home. When we switched to curbside service, it turned out I’m not essential.
Having to put a new-ish festival on hold for so long had to be difficult. Was there ever talk of just letting it go?
AF: Never. We already weren’t making money and operating as a nonprofit. [Previously, proceeds from Hot Luck went to the SAFE Alliance; this year, the festival benefits the Southern Smoke Foundation]. It felt more important than ever to keep Hot Luck alive, so we decided to shift support to our partner organization. Southern Smoke [founded by Houston chef Chris Shepherd, the foundation fundraises for various charities including the National Multiple Sclerosis Society and restaurant industry employees in crisis]. It seemed like a natural fit.
The pandemic hit two months before Hot Luck. How did you shift gears?
AF: We knew right away we had to do something to help the food and beverage industry because everyone was struggling. We donated the funds from the 2020 festival to Southern Smoke, which went toward providing mental health counseling and medical coverage.
That’s pretty incredible, especially since you’re a restaurateur, yourself.
AF: We’re not going to let this pandemic whip us.
Speaking of, what can attendees expect from this year’s Hot Luck?
AF: It’s more like a family reunion this time. We’re all so excited to give out hugs and high fives. And Franklin BBQ is debuting a new Hot Luck Spicy Sauce, which will be available at select retail outlets around town.
There’s a change this year in that the Sunday Brunch is gone, and Thursday is the official kick-off event for the public.
AF: It’s important to keep it fresh. We don’t ever want Hot Luck to get super-duper predictable. Sunday is now a day for a fun industry hang. We can all sit down, debrief and relax. I’m really looking forward to that.
Hot Luck also sold out in record time this year. The Whole Enchilada tickets were gone within 48 hours.
AF: People really want to go out and do things! It’s kind of nuts.
What’s your advice for first timers?
AF: Drink lots of water. Wear comfortable shoes. And remember, it’s a marathon. There are always sneaky after-parties, book signings and afternoon shindigs. Generally, people either buy the Whole Enchilada or they go rogue, doing the old school, word-of-mouth thing: “Hey, you going to so-and-so’s house?” Keep your ears to the ground.
What are you looking forward to most?
AF: I’m just excited to see a lot of friends I haven’t seen in a long time and make new friends. It’s been a hard couple of years for everyone.