Wichita Riverfest Front Of Stage VIP - RedGuard Stage
Lukas Nelson & Promise Of The Real
444 E William
Wichita, KS, 67202
Watch & Listen
Lukas Nelson & Promise Of The Real
Since forming 10 years ago, the buzz surrounding Lukas Nelson & Promise of the Real has been quietly intensifying. During that time, the 28-year old singer/songwriter/guitarist and his bandmates have played hundreds of shows and major festivals all over the world and built a devoted underground following. Lukas’ profile continued to rise when he contributed three songs and heavenly vocals to his dad Willie Nelson’s 2012 album, Heroes, their voices blending with potent DNA. Then two years later, life took another turn skyward when Neil Young decided to make Promise of the Real his touring and studio band. Young has guided the grateful young musicians ever since as they’ve backed the legend on tour around the world and on his two most recent albums.
These experiences were undoubtedly invaluable, but none of what has come before will prepare you for the cosmic country soul of Lukas Nelson & Promise of the Real, the band’s new, self-titled album, a mesmerizing, emotionally genuine, endlessly rewarding work set for release on Fantasy Records. From the epic “Set Me Down on a Cloud” to the climactic “If I Started Over,” the album delivers one sublime song and inspired performance after another.
“I knew I had a lot of good songs that transcended the cultural boundaries between rock & roll and country,” Lukas says of his vision for the album. “I wanted to get the songs as pure as they could be. We owe a lot to Neil; we made this record after coming off the road with him for two years. Neil’s been mentoring us, and we’ve been absorbing that energy, and I think it shows. We got acclimated to a different level of artistic expression. We’ve grown.”
Lukas Nelson & Promise of the Real, produced by song-shaping specialist John Alagia (numerous Dave Matthews Band LPs, John Mayer’s Room for Squares) was recorded at The Village Studios in West Los Angeles. Promise of the Real’s six-piece line-up now includes longtime bandmates Tato Melgar (percussion), Anthony LoGerfo (drums) and Corey McCormick (bass, vocals) along with new members Jesse Siebenberg (steel guitars, Farfisa organ, vocals) and Alberto Bof (piano, Wurlitzer, Hammond B3). Stefani “Lady Gaga” Germanotta (who convincingly plays the role of Bonnie to Lukas’ Delaney) added her signature vocals to the rousing “Carolina” and “Find Yourself,” while Jess Wolfe and Holly Lessig of the Brooklyn-based indie-pop duo Lucius provide backing vocals on five of the 12 tracks, evoking Exile on Main St.’s ecstatic, gospel-rooted harmonies.
The band’s many influences can be discerned in the opening track, “Set Me Down on a Cloud,” a soulful country rocker that features Lucius’ spiritual vocals and an extended solo underscores Lukas’ tasteful guitar virtuosity.
The lilting, pastoral “Just Outside of Austin” features a guitar solo from Willie, while Lukas’ 86-year-old Aunt Bobbi plays piano. “It’s a love letter to Austin, something like Roger Miller or Glen Campbell would write,” he said.
“Runnin’ Shine,” one of the album’s first-person character studies, is written from the perspective of a young moonshiner trying to outsmart the law while hurtling along Appalachian back roads in a souped-up car loaded with homemade booze. “Perspective is huge,” says Lukas. “If you’re able to put yourself in someone else’s shoes and you can relate to them, it’s really hard to hate them, even if you don’t agree with how they live their life.”
Two of the album’s most breathtaking songs, “Find Yourself” and “Forget About Georgia,” vividly retrace the turbulent final stages and bittersweet aftermath of the same doomed love affair. “After the relationship ended, I had to play Ray Charles’ “Georgia on My Mind” every night when I was on the road with my dad, which made it literally impossible to forget about her.” Introduced by a wistful four-note guitar lick that reoccurs throughout the arrangement, “Forget About Georgia” unfolds to a “Layla”-like outpouring of romantic yearning, as the band stretches out behind Lukas’ emotional guitar soloing. Not surprisingly, it’s Young’s favorite song on the album.
Inspired by the big ballads of Roy Orbison and Elvis Presley, Lukas delivers a full-throttle vocal on the closing track, “If I Started Over,” at once a cosmic rumination and a rapturous expression of romantic devotion. “The song is asking, what if, after we die, we just come back? What if we have to do the same dream again until we learn the right lessons?
A seasoned veteran at 28, Austin-born Lukas grew up in Maui, while spending much of his time during school breaks in his hometown and on the road with his dad. “I had a lot of passions growing up,” he says. “I played soccer, I was on the swim team, living a Maui lifestyle, surfing and skateboarding. I also loved singing and wrote my first song when I was 11. I became obsessed with guitar, playing eight to 10 hours a day. I knew what I wanted to do from a super-young age, and I made my life about it.” He and his brother Micah played in bands together in high school, and they struck up a friendship with Uruguay-born Tato Melgar, a skilled musician then making his living as a landscaper, who taught the brothers the basics of drumming.
In 2007, Lukas headed to the mainland to attend L.A.’s Loyola Marymount University. A year later, after meeting LoGerfo at a Neil Young concert, he dropped out of school and started a band with LoGerfo, Melgar and original bassist Merlyn Kelly; he named it Promise of the Real, referencing a line in Young’s 1973 song “Walk On”: “Sooner or later it all gets real.” When McCormick joined two years later on bass, the POTR lineup was set. The band woodshedded; averaging more than 200 shows a year. Drawing on Lukas’ lineage as well surrogate uncles like Kris Kristofferson, Waylon Jennings, and the classic rock and roll of J.J. Cale, The Band, Clapton era Delaney and Bonnie and of course mentor Neil Young, they began to develop their own distinctive style of American music.
Young befriended the band after checking them out at Farm Aid several years back. “Neil got in touch after that, and we started talking by email,” Lukas recounts. “Eventually, he asked us to record with him. So we recorded The Monsanto Years and played some shows together, and we fell in love with each other musically, one thing led to another and we became Neil’s band.
“What’s happened with us feels similar to the career trajectory of The Band,” he continues. “They were already a great band when they started working with Dylan, who lifted them up, which is similar to what Neil’s done for us. He’s also given people a chance to hear what we’re doing and what our own songs have to offer. Then we played the Desert Trip with Neil, along with Paul McCartney, the Stones, the Who and Dylan. That was incredible.”
Those two weekends in Indio last October turned out to be extremely fortuitous. “We met Lucius at Desert Trip,” says Lukas. “They were playing with Roger Waters—and still are. Then they came to the Bridge School Benefit, where we really got to know them. I love Jess and Holly—they really enhance the record.”
Bradley Cooper also saw Lukas play at Desert Trip, and right afterward contacted a mutual friend about helping him on the new film he’s directing and starring in, a remake of A Star is Born. “At first I was just helping him out, and then I started writing with Stefani (Lady Gaga), who’s in the movie. We connected and she and I became really close. I got very involved in this film and ended up bringing the band into it as well.”
Coming of age in a celebrated musical family, Lukas Nelson learned early on that true originality is hard won, never given. Doubtlessly blessed with a measure of musical ability, it’s clear that his natural gifts have been honed by a singular devotion to craft and a deep appreciation for the sacrifice a creative life requires. Elated by the way things have come together so beautifully, Lukas is gratified that POTR have earned this moment and seized the opportunities that have led to this album—all perfectly capturing what he’d heard in his head 18 months earlier.
“It’s just amazing how things have flowed,” Lukas marvels. “It feels divine in a way.”
Cracker, the group that veritably introduced brash irreverence and irony into alt-rock, are back and in top form on their 429 Records debut, Sunrise In The Land Of Milk And Honey.
This rich new trove of sharp-witted songs showcases a bristling, late 70’s – early 80’s power pop punk aesthetic which hits as hard as it did at the band’s formation 17 years ago. Eight albums (one platinum and three gold) and a barrel full of anthemic hit songs later, Cracker endures, using their ability to weave decades of influences into an album that is seamlessly riveting.
In Sunrise…, long-time partners David Lowery and Johnny Hickman, 12-year Cracker drummer Frank Funaro and bassist Sal Maida (since 2006), train a watchful eye on the current socio-musical landscape as they weave an eerie yet strangely soothing story of escapism, apocalypse and renewal. Friends John Doe, Patterson Hood and Adam Duritz (whose mega-band Counting Crows was once produced by Lowery) make spirited guest appearances. The recording was helmed by Athens, GA-based producer/engineer David Barbe, a longtime friend of Lowery who has manned consoles for the likes of Son Volt and the alt-Southern rock band Drive-By Truckers.
The explosive title track that wraps the 11-song collection is thematic, belying its seemingly cheery title to take a tough-edged look at the precarious times we live in. Ever the observant storyteller, Lowery calls it like he sees it: the affluence and wealth America seemed to have these past decades was built on a mirage. The sun shines a harsh light on a landscape of decay. The golden age, the promised land, the land of milk and honey, never materialized.
For Sunrise…, Lowery and Hickman took a new approach to their creative process, joining Funaro and Maida to write most songs from scratch. (Whereas on previous albums, Lowery and Hickman would bring near-finished tracks to the rest of the band.) Cracker were self-disciplined— writing together one week every two months, between tours, for a year. The goal was to work on two songs per day—and somehow, the combined force of their distinctive and mutual influences gave rise to a crackling, raw musical factory of sorts.
Says Lowery, “The coolest part of making the new album was the self-imposed time structure we created, the fact that we all gathered to write these songs like it was an actual job. At one point, when we had four songs that needed lyrics, Johnny and I went to the legendary punk studio, The Blasting Room, in Ft. Collins CO, and rented the B room, where we stayed until we had the right words. It was refreshing to do it this way, to challenge ourselves to write with the clock ticking. It was like starting a band and committing to a rehearsal time. We weren’t kicking back on an island in the Caribbean, waiting for the muse to hit us. We got down to work, found the punk and glam rock in our blood and woke up to Sunrise In The Land Of Milk And Honey.”
Considering drummer Funaro’s background playing with The Dictators and Joey Ramone, and bassist Maida’s background with Roxy Music and Sparks, it was inevitable that the new album would acquire its own unique edge.
“It was a little different involving Frank and Sal’s musical tastes and their background from the get-go,” says Lowery, “but this led us to realize the common element we all share. We all came of age playing power pop-punk and that early new wave stuff. Once we got on this path, it started surfacing in so many songs that it became a thematic element for the whole project. We all started playing music in that era so we weren’t surprised when those sounds started rising up. Sunrise…isn’t the ‘Cracker punk record’ but it’s definitely got that time stamp, the ’78-’83 flavors, all over it. The other thing we did differently was actually playing all the songs in concert before ever committing them to digital. Most bands do the album first, then take the tunes on the road.”
“In a lot of ways, the methodology behind this album brought us all back to when we all started our early bands, when the opportunity to write and record albums came after playing tons of live shows,” adds the Richmond, VA-based singer. “I think one of the reasons Cracker has survived this long when so many of the bands that started in the early 90s faded is that we’ve always made the record we want to hear right now. We’ve always had the belief and confidence that others will feel like we do. Eclecticism was the norm for bands in the 60’s, 70’s and into the 80’s, and that freedom leads to great bursts of creativity and the potential to make classic albums that stand the test of time.”
The first album track explodes with a slicing guitar riff from Hickman. “Yalla Yalla” is a colorful rumination on an Arabic phrase meaning, “Let’s go.” Lowery heard U.S. soldiers greeting each other this way at the Atlanta airport. “Like rock musicians, soldiers in every era have their own language of bravado and machismo,” he says. The band dives deep into the punk on the frenetic “Show Me How This Thing Works,” a song inspired by Lowery helping a friend with a quantitative finance problem; the singer is proud that he was once a budding mathematician.
“Turn On Tune In Drop Out With Me” is a lilting pop/rock reminder that in these precarious times, many may feel like returning to the bold escapism of the 60s, of the hippies who left the rat race behind to “drop out” into spiritual refuge. The blistering “Hand Me My Inhaler” finds its hapless protagonist blustering at an ex-girlfriend's door, “gonna reform the band without you." Hickman says of the blues-funk “I Could Be Wrong, I Could Be Right,” “When I hand David a melody like this one, I have no idea where he’s going to take it, and I love that. Suddenly the devil and members of the Lewis and Clark expedition were caught up together in some sort of a psychedelic love conspiracy.”
“Time Machine,” a black-booted, Celtic-riffed, early-punk kick to the jaw of any pretenders, was inspired by a conversation Hickman had with Black Flag and Descendants drummer Bill Stevenson (who co-founded The Blasting Room studios). Hickman and Stevenson both realized that they had been caught up in the same early 80s punk rock riot at a legendary Dead Kennedys show. It’s a message to today's punks that they perhaps couldn’t have survived what the previous generation endured. “I took a couple of billy club hits that night,” Hickman says, “I got off easy.”
Punk-and-now-Americana legend John Doe harmonizes on the throbbing, surf guitar driven, “We All Shine a Light.” This swarming, Buzzcocks-like rocker is a comment on multicuturalism and tolerance, by way of an ode to Pakistan’s cricket team, the Peshawar Panthers. Patterson Hood of the Drive-By Truckers duets with Lowery on the swampy, folk-Americana of “Friends,” a drunken tale of dysfunctional but loving friendship. One of the album’s more poignant moments arrives when Adam Duritz guests, singing alongside Lowery on the romantically selfless “Darling One.”
The stomping, harmonica-laden “Hey Brett, You Know What Time It Is” came from a sardonic line uttered to Lowery by Built To Spill’s Brett Netson, during an exchange of ever-escalating shockeries. Lowery recalls, “He walked into our dressing room and joked, ‘Will we know when it's time to start dragging rich people from their cars and killin' em'?’ For Frank and me, it grew into a text message exchange and later a song.”
A brief rundown of Cracker’s history: Lowery, in the mid-80s, in Santa Cruz, California, formed Camper Van Beethoven, and their “Take the Skinheads Bowling” became an instant college radio staple. When CVB disbanded on tour in Sweden, following their second major label release, Lowery formed Cracker with his longtime friend Johnny Hickman. (The pair had met on the local music scene as teenagers in Redlands, CA.) Cracker’s emergent sound had less in common with Camper’s exotic excursions and was more in synch with the Kinks and Southern roots music. They released their self-titled debut on Virgin, and following the #1 Modern Rock hit “Teen Angst (What The World Needs Now),” the band became a minor commercial sensation (complete with then-significant MTV exposure). The platinum-selling Kerosene Hat contained the enormous, era-defining hit single “Low,” as well as “Get Off This,” and “Eurotrash Girl.” When the dust settled, Cracker found themselves with an ever-growing, devoted following both in the U.S. (where fans refer to themselves as Crumbs) and throughout Europe. Today the band stays well connected to yet another generation of fans via internet, many of whom were kids when these alt-rock godfathers were first ruling rock radio.
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