For Lukas Nelson and Promise of the Real, today’s performance at Seal Beach’s Eisenhower Park is a bit of a homecoming.
Like his famous father Willie Nelson, the son practically lives on the road, performing 240 shows last year.
But it was in Seal Beach where the band formed in 2008. Nelson was a history student at Loyola Marymount when he dropped out to pursue music, crashing on drummer Anthony LoGerfo’s couch on 12th Street.
“I spent a lot of time in Seal Beach, going to Taco Surf, surfing by the pier – it’s kind of where the band started,” said Nelson.
Tonight at 6 p.m., the band will perform a free summer concert for a crowd of hundreds. The band has played venues small and large, including massive festivals for tens of thousands of music lovers at events such as Farm Aid.
For Nelson, the touring is everything.
“It keeps me focused and grounded,” said Nelson, a guitarist and singer who wrote most of the lyrics to the band’s second album Wasted from the back of the tour bus.
The album represents a period of time last summer when the band was touring intensely and Nelson was partying a lot and learning hard lessons about the kind of person he wanted to be.
“I think I was a little bit lost. I had just broken up with a girl who I had loved a lot, and knew I would always love. I felt a lot of guilt, which is not a good emotion to hold onto. It doesn’t serve any purpose,” said Nelson. “I was carrying all this baggage. I was thinking about my music and whether other people liked it – I was insecure in a lot of ways.”
At just 22-years-old, Nelson, passed out and nearly died one night last summer due to a mixture of alcohol and pills. The experience changed him. He quit smoking and drinking hard liquor.
“I feel like because I survived the episode, the universe gave me a second chance,” said Nelson. “I have had a lot of great mentors along the road, and, honestly, I feel like I owe it to them to keep my life together. They actually believed in me, and I have to listen.”
The change in lifestyle has opened up new doors for Nelson.
“When I quit drinking, my head was more clear. I make better relationships with people when I first meet them. I get to know them now. When I met a girl while I was drinking, we usually ended up hooking up and forgetting about each other…A part of that, I know now, was because I was heartbroken and trying to forget,” said Nelson. “Now, instead of hooking up all the time, I try to get to know them. It’s nice to actually get to know people, and not to get to know some other people. Before, I would hang out with people I didn’t really like – I wasn’t centered enough to read the vibe.”
Nelson, who has a gentle Texas drawl and a penchant for philosophy, combines his outlook on life with his love of music.
“You make other people happy when you follow your own bliss,” he said, quoting philosopher Joseph Campbell. “If you follow your bliss and stay true to who you really are, then doors will open up to you.”
Even the band’s name is a mantra of sorts.
“'Promise of the Real’ is so that every day I can look around and remind myself to be the person that I want to be and to play our music and not change for anybody,” Nelson said.
The music is an evolving process. The band has recently toured with B.B. King and John Fogerty and will soon go back into the studio to record. Wasted features a bluesy American sound influenced by the likes of Jimi Hendrix and Neil Young. But the voice is distinctly of the Nelson family.
“We play different styles of music, but we have the same singing voice,” Nelson said of his father, whom he describes as his best friend. The two perform a series of duets on Willie Nelson’s latest album Heroes.
On vinyl, it’s hard to tell father from son because their voices are nearly identical. But on stage, there is no mistaking the two. Where Willie Nelson is mellow on stage, Lukas Nelson is anything but. Nelson, dances, moves around constantly and has even been known to play the guitar with his teeth. It’s a showmanship he brings to every performance.
“I do it every time. I can’t help but move around. I’ve been criticized for it, but I don’t really listen to them because I have fun,” said Nelson. I work out a lot, run, lift weights, surf. I try to keep active and really get into shows, and I won’t always be young enough to be able to do it…you only live once.”