While the spotlight at C2C will be on the arena stage, don’t forget the smaller Spotlight stages. That’s where to find the next arena performers, but there’s one headliner on the Spotlight who’s already played the arena. He’s Lukas Nelson who is playing the Spotlight stage in Glasgow on 9 March and in London the following night. Nelson and his band, Promise Of The Real, played the O2 Arena back in June 2016 as Neil Young’s backing band. POTR were back over here last year for their debut show in their own right. It was a powerful performance where Nelson was able to demonstrate his command of styles, particularly country, as featured on last year’s self-titled release, their fourth album.
Ahead of that show, I had a chance to meet Lukas and in a fascinating chat found out a bit about him, his beliefs and influences. Nelson’s love of country and roots music is clear and unsurprising given that his father is Willie Nelson.
Lukas Nelson started writing songs aged only ten, learning to play guitar shortly afterwards. That may not appear too unusual given his dad’s occupation and the musical legends he met so young. For example, by the time Lukas was 16 he had been touring with Willie for nearly three years when he found himself jamming with Bob Dylan. So impressed was Dylan that he invited young Lukas to join his tour, ”my mom said no but that invite gave me the confidence to keep trying and playing.” It is that dedication to learning about his craft and constantly improving his abilities that shone through our conversation. Lukas Nelson is the first to acknowledge the support from his dad and others but what impresses most is how he has melded that with his own approach to create his own unique style.
Who inspired you? “My dad of course, Neil Young, Tom Petty, Dylan, Ray Charles, Glen Campbell and the rock and roll classics. I love the classics. I was obsessed with Stevie Ray Vaughan, but I didn’t just want to copy him. I wanted to know who he listened to.” How did he learn to play guitar? “That took me back to Hubert Sumlin, T-Bone Walker, Buddy Guy, BB King. Who did Clapton look up to? And Hendrix? That all helped influence my own style.”
There is a deepness of thought in Nelson’s songs, so where does that come from? “I’ve read a lot but essentially I believe everything happens for a reason, a positive could be a negative in disguise and vice versa. I let the universe unfold around me and I write songs that connect with people. Musically I’ve had unique experiences and with my philosophy on life I want to create music that people can relate to, regardless of where they come from.”
Nelson’s sums up his philosophy as, “90% of the people I’ve met have inspired me. I was born blessed, a lot of the children of successful musicians have had problems but it doesn’t matter where you come from, it’s how you deal with it.”
Given Willie’s “outlaw” persona, does Lukas see himself similarly? “Yes, I connect with people who live their lives authentically, which does not necessarily mean legally. ‘Runnin’ Shine’ from the new album is a good example of such a person.”
This was a fascinating insight into someone who makes clear how grateful he is for all his provenance has brought him but above all he is his own man who thinks deeply and clearly. Watch his TEDx Talk; all that shines through in his music.
So what can those going to C2C expect? What stands out is the ease with which POTR move between out and out rocking, jamming in the finest southern traditions and an easier pace of the acoustic songs. Lukas Nelson leads, but all in the band make a big contribution as he frequently acknowledges. As he told me, this band is more than road tested, and it shows. He also proved his refusal to be categorised, this was a genre defying set.
The best preparation is to give ’Promise Of The Real’ a listen. The opening track, ‘Set Me Down On A Cloud” features Jesse Siebenberg’s haunting pedal steel that sets up Nelson’s chords and vocals. ‘Die Alone’ is superb live, it came early in the set. ‘Fool Me Once’ reveals the family connection, a slower more acoustic song that may well feature in March.
Lady Gaga teams up perfectly with Nelson on ‘Carolina” and the country feel continues with the aptly titled, ‘Just Outside Of Austin’, on which Willie plays a solo. ‘Forget About Georgia’ is about a person, not the state, that should also go down well with a country audience, as would “If I Started Over”, another example of the tight bond he has with his father.
However, the point about Lukas Nelson is that he’s not beholden to a specific genre. As he said, “I don’t care how my music is categorised. Remember, every artist is trying to create something different, they don’t want to be categorised because they are trying to do something no one has ever done.”
Throughout last year’s show my deepest impression was how Nelson plays with such a lightness of touch and finesse. So, go to C2C with an open mind and be prepared to let Lukas Nelson and POTR mesmerise you with some amazing music.