Lukas Nelson & Promise of the Real

Presented/Guest
with special guest The War & Treaty
Date
Thursday, August 8, 2019
Time/Doors
GATES 5:30 | SHOW 7 PM
Facebook Event
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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.”

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THE WAR & TREATY

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Michael and Tanya Trotter took distinctly different paths to becoming The War and Treaty.

After winning a talent show when she was 13, Tanya knew singing would be her life. Growing up in a tight-knit community just outside of Washington, D.C., Tanya had a voice that was already hinting at the force it’d become: honeyed and bold, guttural but angelic. She’d discovered writing, too, and every blank space was an opportunity. “My mom would come into my room late at night and catch me reading books and writing, with a flashlight,” Tanya says, laughing. “I used to write on everything––envelopes, everything.”

Michael started writing later, and for different reasons. He spent part of his childhood in Cleveland before moving with his mother, brother, and sister to Washington, D.C. The family spent time in and out of homeless shelters––a limbo Michael would experience again as an adult. He was 19 when his first daughter, Michaela, was born. “She was the first thing I felt that I’d done right––my little girl,” he says. “I joined the army for her.” Michael enlisted in the United States Army in 2003, two years after 9/11. “I didn’t know it was wartime,” he says. “People say, ‘How do you not know that?’ Well, in the neighborhood I grew up in, we weren’t patriotic. No one cared––that’s rich people’s news. Meanwhile, someone I know just got shot yesterday.”

But what Michael did know was that as a soldier, he felt proud––then scared. He was sent to Iraq, where leaders who outranked him saw the fear in his eyes and treated him not as an underling, but as a brother. Stationed in one of Saddam Hussein’s rubbled palaces, he had access to a piano that had emerged miraculously unscathed. A captain heard him play and sing with his once-in-a-generation volcano of a voice, and he encouraged Michael to pursue music. When that same captain was killed, Michael sat down to write––really write––for the first time.

Officers noticed the tribute, pulled Michael from the front lines, and gave him a new charge: write and perform songs for the fallen. So whenever a brother or sister in arms died, Michael spoke to buddies, uncovered the story, and penned a song for the memorial. It was a heavy burden that also made him safer. “I remember, I would walk from one point to another, imagining people were chanting my name––imagining a concert that had nothing to do with death,” he says.

When Michael returned home, he was booked on a festival that also featured Tanya Blount. After his set, Tanya approached him and asked if he’d written his songs. He had. The two exchanged numbers, but Michael, battle-weary, scarred, and daunted by Tanya’s beauty, couldn’t understand why she’d want anything to do with him. “I threw her number away because I had a lot of insecurities that I still have. I thought, ‘Who would want to be with a guy who went to war?’”

Tanya didn’t wait on him. She called Michael, and the two became inseparable. Today, they’re married and have created a six-year-old son and a powerhouse duo. When The War and Treaty stepped up to fill an ill Buddy Miller’s spot at the 2017 Americana Music Festival & Conference, jaws at the Cannery Ballroom in Nashville collectively dropped. Just as anticipation surrounding Healing Tide is more than high, the music on the record is more than just sublime roots soul. It’s part of a mission.

As The War and Treaty, Michael and Tanya serve up healing and pain robbing with freewheeling joy on a monumental new full-length album, Healing Tide. An original tour-de-force produced by Buddy Miller, the collection swaggers with a confidence only gained by artists who are wholly, proudly, themselves. Funky bass lines, keys, lap steel, acoustic strings, and stripped-down percussion create a swampy Southern soul bed for the couple’s transcendent vocals. “I hope people see our hearts on this record,” Michael says. “I want them to experience freedom. To feel again.”

Michael wrote every track on Healing Tide alone. Opener “Love Like There’s No Tomorrow” sets the tone both thematically and vocally. Stark tambourine gives way to Michael’s gravelly locomotive vocals, which are joined in an early chorus by Tanya’s soaring harmonies. “Today is all that matters,” Michael says. “I would say that The War and Treaty’s mission is to embrace the now.”

Tanya takes over in “Are You Ready to Love Me,” as an old-school groove propelled by bass, electric guitar, and pedal steel growls. With unblinking confidence, Tanya asks the question too many women are too afraid to muster. “It puts us, as women, in a position of strength,” Tanya says. “A lot of women endure unnecessary pain because the question wasn’t asked or answered. I always say, let’s jump off the bridge together, hand in hand. You got to be in love to hit the water at the same time.”

Featuring a divine cameo from Emmylou Harris, “Here is Where the Loving is At” offers a moving portrait of loyal femininity and grace. Sweet but frank, “One and the Same” shuffles through a message of unity and recognition of ourselves in others who don’t look or sound like we do. Over crying steel, “It’s Not Over Yet” extends empathy and an outstretched hand to those losing faith.

Both Tanya and Michael admit to having favorites. “Little New Bern” hits hard for Tanya, painting vivid pictures of her grandparents’ farm. “That’s where happiness started for me, at my grandparents’ every summer, barefoot in the dirt, down at the pond, playing with the frogs,” she says. “I think everybody has a Little New Bern.” Michael singles out “Jeep Cherokee Laredo,” a scorcher that tells The War and Treaty story. “It starts off with me telling my truth––I said I’d never love again, never get married again. There were so many ‘I would never do agains,’” Michael says. “Then here comes this girl, and I put my foot in my mouth. And I got to live up to it.” A thumping sing-along, the song swings and jumps with joyful shouts from both Michael and Tanya.

Another standout, the title track offers an invitation: be part of humanity’s reconciliation. Michael wrote the song first as a gauntlet thrown down not to others, but to himself. “I was confronting myself,” he says. “I thought, ‘I wonder if Dr. King ever felt like giving up. Wonder if he thought, ‘I just want to be with Coretta and the kids, whisk off into the sunset.’” Michael pauses. “He’d be alive. So how heavy is the responsibility? Are you strong enough to pick it up?”

“You have to have a deep place of love within yourself to be vulnerable,” Tanya says. “With The War and Treaty, we allow people to see two people that are not perfect. We get on stage. We sweat. We’re overweight. We yell. We get ugly, we scream! My hair comes loose. We’re vulnerable––naked––in front of people, and it’s a chain reaction. It allows them to be vulnerable, too.”

The War and Treaty deliver live shows and records that make the hairs on the back of necks stand up. Their music and stories bring tears and goosebumps, but ultimately, more is at work. In the midst of Michael and Tanya’s open, beaming faces and united voices, facades met away. Walls are torn down. “I want people to feel like we care,” Michael says. “When you think about artists, you don’t think about that.” He pauses and grins broadly. “But that’s the way I want the world to feel about The War and Treaty.