How to Hot Luck
Your guide to getting the most out of Austin’s low-key food and music festival
By Laurel Miller
Photos by Chad Wadsworth, Julia Keim, Jackie Lee Young and Pooneh Ghana, courtesy of Hot Luck
It’s back! Hot Luck is returning for its fifth year of live fire cooking and live music this Memorial Day weekend.
The three-day event, a brainchild of Aaron Franklin, Guerilla Suit principal James Moody and Mike Thelin, of Feast Portland, celebrates the culture and camaraderie of backyard barbecues and potlucks, after-hours industry hangs and intimate (if loud) music venues.
Nationally-acclaimed chefs and bands will converge on Austin from May 26 to 29 to showcase their respective talents in events with names like “The Giddy Up” and “Hi, How Are You?”
In the past, Franklin has referred to Hot Luck as a “choose-your-own-adventure” weekend because the programming allows for venue-hopping, but he also describes it as a “marathon.” Factor in high temps and humidity, and it’s easy to understand how a rookie mistake or two can end your party early.
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Decades of participating in and covering food and wine festivals have led me to develop a set of survival skills in order to get through these weekends with minimum self-inflicted damage and dignity (usually) intact. Below are my tips on how to Hot Luck like a pro:
1. To quote Franklin, “Drink lots of water.” And then drink some more (water, that is). An electrolyte-loaded beverage, or three, at evening’s end is also a smart idea, as that will combat dehydration and act as a hangover helper.
2. Sunscreen. Hat. Sunglasses.
3. Wear loose clothing and comfortable shoes. The former isn’t to conceal your food baby. It’s to prevent a meltdown while waiting in lines and running around town. That goes double for footwear — by all means, wear your cowboy boots to Al Fuego, but just know it’s hot out there, and you’ll be traipsing across a grass field.
That loose clothing will also accommodate the swag various sponsors give out, plus merch.
4. I can’t stress this enough: Don’t eat all the things. I adopted this strategy years ago because few things suck more than ending a night at 9 p.m. with your head in a toilet because you’ve behaved like a Roman at a bacchanal. The meat sweats are very real. That said, you’ll want to save room for eats from folks like Tavel Bristol-Joseph, Nicola Blaque (The Jerk Shack, San Antonio), Shota Nakajima (Taku, Seattle), Stuart Brioza (The Anchovy Bar, San Francisco) and Alon Shaya (Saba, New Orleans), to name a few.
Pace yourself, and don’t feel bad about tasting rather than consuming every last bite of every dish.
5. Stash some dental floss and baby wipes on your person. One word: Ribs.
6. Keep your phone charged because you’ll inevitably lose your friends and/or want to post them eating those brontosaurus-sized ribs.
7. Don’t be afraid to eavesdrop, because word-of-mouth is the best way to find out about all the under-the-radar house parties and other festivities.
8. The infamous Sunday Brunch may not be happening this year, but there’s still live music at several venues, and an industry-only brunch if you’re of the F&B persuasion.
9. Ridesharing is key, and also the best way to get to Al Fuego, which is located at Wild Onion Ranch in Manchaca. Your driver will need to drop you off and pick you up at the Akins High School parking lot, and a shuttle will provide service to and from the ranch. Gather some like-minded individuals to share the cost and summon your lift back to town well before you need to get to that music venue.
10. Note that some band tickets are only being sold at the door, so plan accordingly (see above).
For more information on this year’s Hot Luck, visit hotluckfest.com.