When you’ve grown up with Willie Nelson as your father, chances are good you’ve mingled with music royalty. Lukas Nelson certainly has.
During his teens, Nelson, now 29, started playing music with his father and some of his father’s friends and colleagues, like Bob Dylan.
Nelson now fronts his own band, Lukas Nelson and Promise of the Real. The band’s name comes from the lyric of a Neil Young song “Walk On.”
Young has long been an influence on Lukas Nelson but over the past several years, he has become a friend and colleague. Nelson and his band have recorded three albums with Young and toured regularly as his backup band.
On Feb. 8 Nelson and Promise of the Real perform at the Uptown Theater, 3700 Broadway, on a bill with Blackberry Smoke. From his home in Hawaii, Nelson recently talked to The Star about touring with Young and his father, about his recent collaborations with Lady Gaga and about the everlasting importance of Farm Aid.
What was it like to start working with Neil Young and what did you do to prepare?
We went into the rehearsal studio ourselves even before we went into rehearse with Neil and learned about 80 Neil tunes — any Neil tune we loved, we learned and got down pat. So we were prepared enough so that anything he’d throw at us we could handle. So we felt confident, musically at least, that we’d be a good match. And we were right.
Neil and the band, all of us, we see very eye-to-eye musically. We have similar influences rooted in the blues, in songwriting and in I guess what they call now “Americana,” but what back then was rock ’n’ roll.
How does touring with him compare to touring with your dad?
It’s just as magical but in a different way. They’re different stylistically. Dad doesn’t get as rock ’n’ roll as we get sometime. But he can if he wants to. His set is mellower.
I’ve learned a lot being with both of them about stage presence, working a crowd, getting your equipment right on stage, making sure that everything is perfect.
And making sure you travel well. Dad travels better than anyone I’ve ever met. He’s really good a keeping his routine, sleeping a lot. Neil travels incredibly well. He’s got a whole exercise truck he brings along with him. He does Pilates every day. He keeps himself strong and fresh. He knows how to take care of his body. And that’s inspiring for somebody 72 years old and dad being 85 almost.
How did you end up working with Lady Gaga?
We played Desert Trip with Neil — that festival in Indio (California) they called Oldchella. It was us, Paul McCartney, Bob Dylan, the Rolling Stones, the Who and Roger Waters.
It was incredible, one of the highlights of my life. We played to 80,000 people. Bradley Cooper (actor/director) was there and he caught the show and saw me and said he wanted me to help him with a movie (a remake of “A Star is Born”).
I started working with him and writing songs for the movie, just for the heck of it, and sending them over to the producer, and they started liking them. Then Lady Gaga came by and I met her and we clicked. We became good friends, and we started writing together.
What did you discover about her?
She’s an amazing, amazing talent. She can sing like no one, and she’s super dedicated and smart. My experiences with her were incredible. And she’s really down-to-earth, really a good person. You can see why guys like Tony Bennett and these other legends love her because she’s a genuine talent, like they are.
The first time I saw you perform was in 2011, when Farm Aid came to Sporting Park. You performed with your dad; Neil Young was also on the bill. Farm Aid is now more than 30 years old. What does it mean to you and your family?
It’s a very important cause. You need to know where your food comes from. I believe your food needs to be grown in a sustainable way that’s good for the environment. Family farms are the solution to that. Keeping family farms around means you’re getting local food that’s grown in the same ecosystem you live in, the same air you’re breathing, which helps with so many different medical issues — allergies and things.
Honey, for example, has a lot of medicinal properties when it’s local because it can fight off the allergens in the air. It’s good for the immune system.
Local food is really important. It’s also important to prevent major food companies from monopolizing and running out the family farmers. It gives them control of the food supply. Then they can put anything they want in that food to make it cheaper … The most likely situation is they’ll cut corners left and right and our health will suffer. Then, when you get a gastric-intestinal disease, you have to get your pharmaceuticals, which have their side-effects. It’s a vicious cycle.
All these bigwigs make money off our eating crap food and getting sick. That’s why initiatives like Farm Aid are important.
Lukas Nelson & Promise of the Real perform Thursday, Feb. 8, at the Uptown Theater, 3700 Broadway. Blackberry Smoke headlines. Showtime is 8 p.m. Tickets are $30 and $35.