By Lisa Morgan
While it was clear Neil Young could have held us captive on his own during his first weekend performance at Desert Trip 2016, the entrance of his band of choice, Promise of the Real, featuring Lukas and Micah Nelson, took things to a whole other level of sound and exhilaration. “Who is THAT?” asked the two women next to me (in a tone kindred to one staring at their first Pappy & Harriet’s bone-in ribeye.) “Neil Young, you dorks,” I replied! “No! The other guy on guitar,” they shouted! “Oh,” I replied, “that’s Willie Nelson’s boy, Lukas and his band Promise of the Real (POTR), and that’s his brother Micah. Micah has his own band, Insects vs Robots and….,” my voice trailed off into the breeze as the magic taking place on stage demanded our absolute attention. The harmonies and face melting guitar jams that followed were riveting. The energy on the stage between these troubadours was like no other. Songs were delivered to our souls like a healing balm. It was a raw and powerful sorcery. “Down by the River” turned into a 20 to 25 minute concert in itself. The song ebbed and flowed with the dynamics of the ocean herself, and like a riptide, drew us all into its depths.
“That was a big catalyst for all of our careers,” shared Nelson as he graciously squeezed our interview into a particularly busy day. “It was really special. I had all my loved ones there with me with the exception of Dad; he was working. It was probably one of the greatest nights of my life.”
Touring now in support of their third album, Something Real, POTR have been making a steady diet of shows here in the low and high deserts. I first stumbled upon them at the Indio Date Festival five years ago. I had no trouble finding a seat. Having fallen in love with their music, I waited for their show 30 minutes ahead of schedule to watch them play for a moderate crowd at Stagecoach later that year. There was a fairly short line to get CDs signed at their Meet and Greet. Today, tickets to their back to back shows March 24 and 25 were sold out shortly after they went on sale. And that, my friends, is the only “selling out” you will ever find Lukas Nelson and his tribe of otherworldly Apollonian band mates doing. They named the band Promise of the Real for their commitment to authenticity in their music and have earned every bit of their current success. In their first year, they sold their first EP, live tracks recorded off the soundboard at the world famous “Belly Up” in Solana Beach, in order to support their touring costs. It has become quite clear that the only birthright claimed by this son of a true music legend was the opportunity to learn from some of the best and apply his intense work ethic to it.
Lukas Nelson has a special place in his heart for the high desert. After all, this is not his first sold out show at Pappy and Harriet’s. The band even gave an impromptu performance at Rim Rock Ranch, a beautifully quaint retreat just up the road from the iconic music venue. “I love it over there; it has a great vibe – nice and rustic,” he shared.
Fans lucky enough to have gotten tickets to the Pappy and Harriet’s shows will be treated to two new players added to the stellar lineup POTR usually brings – Jesse Seibenburg on steel guitar and slide and background vocals, and Alberto Bof on whirlitzer and piano. Those unable to attend can at least look forward to a new album soon. Nelson is hoping to release a collection in late summer/early fall. “I think we’ve put together a Masterpiece album; some of our greatest old songs along with some of our best new songs,” shared Nelson.
When I asked Lukas what he thought the secret was to keeping the music and band relationships fresh over the thousands of touring miles and years traveling in close quarters. “I guess it’s all about staying true to who you are, to your influences and what you love… not trying to conform to anything or jump into a certain genre of music, just being true to who we are. That will keep the inspiration and the well flowing. Once you start pretending, it’s like putting blocks in a pipe. It stops the flow of creation. You start creating art that’s not genuine. You gotta keep the inspiration going.”
I asked him if any aspect of the music business feels like work to him.
“Travel,” he laughed. “Flying really sucks but you gotta do it… but I’m learning to love it.”
Before I had to let him get on with his day, I was compelled to ask Lukas about a song on his current album, “Set Me Down on a Cloud.” I found it especially captivating with lyrics like,
I’m sitting in a room
And waiting for an answer
Hoping that the lord sees fit to let me leave.
Cause if the news ain’t good
And you ain’t comin back here
I’m gonna stay until my bones have turned to leaves
I’m waiting on a word
Hanging on a prayer
White walls like limbo
They keep my feet on the ground
If I lose my baby
I tell you where they can lay me
Set me down on a cloud
With my soul turned inside out
“We’re actually going to put that song in a new reiteration on the next record,” he answered. “That song is a real heavy song. I played at Jackson Wellsprings, a place in Ashland Oregon. A lady there wrote this really long letter about how that show had been the first time she’d been able to smile since she’d accidentally run over and killed her 4 year old daughter. She asked me to write a song for her. It moved me so much, I did. I wrote a song about how do you might feel in a moment like that”
If you have tickets to their March 24 and 25 shows at Pappy and Harriet’s, you will have an incredible experience. Watching this band live is something of a phenomenon – a thing that you can’t fully appreciate from video or recording, as stellar as they may be. If you do not have tickets, be sure to follow POTR at promiseofthereal.com so you won’t miss out on the next nearby show. Better yet, follow their Facebook page, www.facebook.com/promiseofthereal/. Lukas is known to share raw video recordings of amazing songs the demonstrate his endless well of songs. “Touring is just a way of life. Even when I’m not working, I’m working – thinking, you know. I’m never hurting for songs. I always have material.”