Thursday I had the delight of going to Willie Nelson’s ranch to cover Luck Reunion. The event grounds is the set of his 1983 movie ‘The Red Headed Stranger’ and it was as surreal as it sounds.
One of the artists I HAD to watch was Nathaniel Rateliff doing a solo set at the Chapel which holds about 40-50 people packed like sardines - and that number feels gracious. His set time was 8 so I headed to the press area at 7:30 to secure my spot.
Unbeknownst to me the set time had been pushed up to 7-7:40 and had Nathaniel not been in the middle of performing “Three Fingers In” I might not have even realized. I tried making my way through the back staff entrance but was denied since the performance had started. I walked around to the front door and was greeted with “I’ve been waiting here two hours and I’m standing at the door, you’re not getting in.” So in a last ditch effort I kindly asked people if I could squeeze by to a window. I tried shooting between heads but it just wasn’t working. I noticed someone with a press badge standing inside within arms length so I removed my camera and tapped him on the leg a few times trying to get his attention and see if he would grab a couple quick shots for me. He didn’t notice.
Then, in my first brush with luck, the gentleman I was reaching past offered me his hand and said he would help pull me up into the small space he created between himself and the window beside him - the woman behind him offered to hold my camera. I climbed through a window of Luck Chapel right before Nathaniel started the last song of his set.
There was no time to check my settings - I relied on faith and the hope that I could correct any issues in post-editing. A few times during Nathaniel’s final song I had to stop, steady my breath, and wipe the tears from my face. A sentiment that was strong in the crowded room - even Rateliff himself was crying.
When the performance was finished I thanked the people who had pulled me up from the window and gave each a hug - “You were crying as much as he was, it was so beautiful to see. I’m so glad we pulled you through that window.”
Leaving the small chapel and stepping back into the warmth of the sunlight felt like a baptism. No matter what god you do or do not believe in, when you come to Willie’s place prepare to be taken to church.
Laura is a native St. Louisan giving you the front row view by photographing your favorite artists.