“Well, it’s funny, ’cause my first experience of going on the road, truly, was when I was like an infant, you know.”
Sometimes the past is so sensory, so formative that even in the second-hand telling it feels tangible to a listener. As the 28-year old progeny of Willie Nelson, Lukas Nelson has more than his share of history to draw on, draw from, talk about and remember, but to hear him recall his earliest memories of being on the road – of being on tour, if you will – is particularly evocative and expressive. Unusually charming.
“The most memorable part of being on the road from when I was young was how well I’d sleep in my bunk on my bus.” Nelson continued. “I remember being an infant, and I remember when I was really young, my brother and I would share the back bed, ’cause my dad had a huge bed in the back that he would sleep in. My mom and him and my brother and I, we would all sleep back there, kinda like gypsies traveling down the road.
And then he would have all these gifts that fans had given him hanging all around the room in the back of the bus. It was like necklaces and trinkets that fans who loved him would give him. One of my earliest memories is just laying in the bed, feeling the hum of the engine as we’re driving. And then the swaying back and forth and the sounds that it would make. And these hanging necklaces – probably a thousand of them back there – that always clinked up against each other. There’s this unmistakable sound. And the energy of all those crystals and feathers and things..all those were gifts that were given to Dad, and they had good energy…I felt very safe. The bus and the road feels very safe to me.”
It’s a good thing that Nelson feels so at home while so often away from home. Whether as Lukas Nelson & Promise of the Real with bandmates Tato Melgar (percussion), Anthony LoGerfo (drums), Corey McCormick (bass), Jesse Siebenberg (steel guitars) and Alberto Bof (keys) or touring with Neil Young, he estimates that he averages around 250 days of the year on tour. Is that too many or is that just right?
“That’s probably just right.” Nelson says. “I feel great touring that much, I really do. It feels just natural, free.”
This shouldn’t be a surprise; if you’ve seen their tour calendar, the term ‘road warrior’ comes to mind and you don’t clock that kind of time if your heart and soul aren’t in it. Their fourth album, the self-titled Lukas Nelson & Promise of the Real, is a realized and confident work of soulfully charged Southern rock by the sextet, a fresh expression of the music that Nelson knows and reveres and Nelson & company seem willing to take any and every opportunity to flesh out those songs for a crowd. Americana Fest, Outlaw Fest, Farm Aid, headline shows, Bonnaroo…tour life. Currently Lukas Nelson & Promise of the Real have gigs booked right up to New Year’s Eve and since managing tour life is a skill with Nelson effectively a seasoned pro at it, we wanted to hear a bit about it from his perspective because tour happens.
Even the son of a legend gets the pleasure of not knowing whether he’ll make it to the next gig
“One time we were in Arizona, we were in Lake Powell. We played a place called Powell Fest, which was right on the lake there. It was like just kind of hippie thing and we were in a RV that was barely running, basically, and we had to make from there to Terre Haute, IN in less than a day. We had a day to get there, and we had to drive 30 hours straight. And we pulled into this gig two hours late, but luckily it was like a house party, so they were kinda drunk and didn’t even really realize that we were so late. So we played that show – we made that show, but our RV broke down and we had to fix it.”
I Do, I Don’t
“I substitute weed for booze. I don’t drink very much at all…that really helps the survival factor.
What’s a good do? Running. Nice to stay in shape with exercise. Wake up in the morning wherever you are, try and go for a run. That helps.”
“I hurt myself rolling one time, but it wasn’t even at a show. Yeah, it was bad. I was on a concrete kind of stage, and I was actually doing like a fake music video, pretending to be Kurt Cobain. I was rolling around on stage, but there was a two inch drop from the cement stage, and I didn’t see it. So when I went to roll backwards, I did not get the top. I missed two inches, and my full weight went on the center of my spine, and I’m still paying for that.”
“I love playing ‘Find Yourself’ and ‘Forget About Georgia.’ Those are my two favorite ones to play live. I feel like it really gets me, and it gets the crowd, and I just feel like I can really let loose on those songs. ‘Set Me Down On A Cloud’ is another one of my favorites. I love to be able to stretch out. I love ‘Find Yourself’ ‘cause I just love the way the crowd tends to sing along and it becomes kind of a churchy moment. Very nice.”
Live is where the music lives
“I think that, honestly, the band is tighter and we’re better at kind of getting our musical point across, so to speak. These gigs are very like rock n roll churchy, you know? So there’s a lot of people, jubilation and dancing. Yeah. I’m looking forward to it. I can’t wait.”
Sidenote: During our conversation we talked about who Nelson would love to collaborate with in the future and he named some incredible artists like Alabama Shakes, Shakey Graves and Paul McCartney.
But the first name that came out of his mouth was Tom Petty.