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Aaron Franklin Just Wants You to Relax and Have a Good Time at Hot Luck Festival

The food festival is back this week

Hot Luck brings together music and food
Hot Luck brings together music and food
Dave Mead/Hot Luck/Facebook
Nadia Chaudhury is the editor of Eater Austin covering food and pop culture, as well as a photographer, writer, and frequent panel moderator and podcast guest.

Hot Luck Festival, the food and music festival from Aaron Franklin, James Moody, and Mike Thelin, returns this week. Events include the fire-focused sprawling Al Fuego cookout, the backyard barbecue at Franklin, and a mall food court-inspired sip and stroll at the Fair Market, happening during Memorial Day weekend from Thursday, May 24 through Sunday, May 27.

Eater recently sat down with Franklin and Moody to discuss what they learned from last year’s inaugural festival and what to expect in 2018. Look out for Eater’s complete guide to tackling the festival sometime tomorrow.

Pulling off the first-time festival last year was a feat but it worked out well, despite the fact that the team only really started planning five months before it took place in mid-May.

“We were willing to kill it after the first year,” Moody revealed, in case the food and music festival didn’t turn out as planned. Thankfully, everything went smoothly.

“‘Holy shit, we pulled it off,’” Moody, who comes from a background of running festivals (like Fun Fun Fun Fest, RIP) remembered thinking, “and then it was, ‘Oh shit, we could have done this and that better.’” He and Franklin immediately started planning as soon as it ended.

The aim for Hot Luck is accessibility and approachability for everyone, not just those who happen to be obsessed with food or music. It’s a wholly special festival, marrying what they refer to as the high and low together, offering a “nice bit of contrast,” as Franklin explained. It’s different than, say, seemingly cookie-cutter food festivals. And that’s very intentional.

“We know that a lot of those exist,” Moody said, referring to the usual food and wine festivals throughout the country and world, “and there’s a lot of space for that. But what was happening is that there are all these people who want to get involved in food, and felt like it wasn’t for them.” Hot Luck is their answer.

Contigo’s setup at Al Fuego
Contigo’s setup at Hot Luck last year at Al Fuego
Nadia Chaudhury/EATX

“[Franklin] always tells the chefs to leave their chef coats at home,” Moody continued. “Just do your thing, you’re cooking for your friends. So you have a Michelin-starred chef that’s going to do grilled cheese. Cool.”

That sentiment is best embodied by Hot Luck’s new event, the Cisco’s Takeover, a late-night party at the classic greasy spoon, with Empellon chef Alex Stupak and author of La Tacopedia Alejandro Escalante (Franklin called him the “godfather of tacos”). The location is intentional.

It’s about “celebrating what’s cool about Austin, which is quickly going away,” Franklin said. “I think it’s cool to just be able to focus on what little we have left of that.”

“We put a tremendous amount of firepower on our smallest event,” he continued, “which most festivals would’ve put huge names at big night fire event or whatever.” Instead, they opted for the small Tex-Mex restaurant.

Hot Luck also hosts a Night Court, where the theme is mall food courts from the 1980s. “I tell everybody they don’t have to do anything fancy,” Franklin said. “Take the stress off of coming up with something amazing or blow people’s minds, and have fun with it: ‘What do I like to eat?’” It’s about trusting the chefs and letting them do what they do well. (Even though chef David Chang was initially attached to cook at this event, he was unable to make it. In his stead is Momofuku chef Matt Rudofker.)

“It’s also the ultimate high-low,” Moody explained. “To have great chefs do the lowest of the low foods.”

Another unique event, and new to Hot Luck, is the Sunday brunch-themed Coupe de Grille, which takes place in an actual automotive car shop. “It’s the brunch version of chicken shit bingo,” Franklin said, referring to the beloved pastime. “Hot rods are being chopped, while onions are being chopped,” Moody further elaborated.

As for the music, Moody made sure there was more variety, including DJ Questlove’s dance party, post-hardcore band Hot Snakes (Franklin is particularly excited about this show), country-funk band the Texas Gentlemen, Danish punks Iceage, and indie rock band Girlpool. And because it’s a food festival, chefs will cook up special snacks for each show.

As is the Franklin way, the pitmaster wants to continue building and creating things for the festival until it’s entirely self-sufficient. He’s expanding Hot Luck’s smoker reserve, and also working on curved banquette tables. Next year, he’s thinking about making actual tents for the events.

Hot Luck will always evolve: events that are happening this year might not take place next year, or maybe they will. It’s all about keeping the food festival fun and lose. While the all-access Whole Enchilada passes are sold out, along with the welcome party at Frank and the Cisco’s Takeover, there are still tickets to Al Fuego, Night Court, Coupe de Grille, and many of the concerts.