By Suzanne Kayian
The coconut wireless was in full force Sunday (9/19) afternoon when word hit the street that Lukas Nelson would be playing a surprise acoustic concert that evening at Charley’s Restaurant & Saloon in Paia.
Nelson, son of legendary Willie Nelson, spent much of his youth on Maui but in recent years, he has been living in California. His band, The Promise of the Real, maintains a relentless touring schedule that doesn’t allow Lukas a lot of time to spend on our tropical island. So when Rhythm & Views heard about the surprise show, it was time for a convergence in Paia.
I have seen Lukas perform several times but never in what essentially was a solo configuration. There was no electric guitar, no full-on rock band, no opening act, no headliner and no surprise appearances by his dad. Instead, there were three bar stools across the front of the stage, with Nelson sitting in the center. The drummer was tucked behind.
Dressed in black and wearing a black cowboy hat, the rocker looked like a country-music star. I always try to view Nelson as an individual — not Willie’s son — but it is hard not to notice the haunting similarity between the two, in looks and sound.
Yet Lukas is truly his own artist, both fronting The Promise of the Real and solo. He’s an exceptional guitar player, he sings with passion and it is clear that he belongs on stage.
Nelson, with Uncle Don Lopez and Tom Conway on either side, played classics, covers and original songs — with very little rehearsal we were told.
During one of the evening’s brightest moments, Nelson played a memorable version of “Little Wing.” As audience members broke out their smart phones to capture the performance, I wanted to jump up and shout out: “Yesterday marked the 40th anniversary of Jimi Hendrix’s death.” I managed to maintain.
Lukas followed the Hendrix classic with a kick-butt version of Johnny Cash’s “Folsom Prison Blues.” The two illustrious songs back-to-back moved the crowd to clap their hands and tap their feet while hooting and hollering in appreciation. When Nelson segued into Cash’s “I Walk The Line,” it brought the evening’s energy to a peak.
The audience was captivated; seriously, you could feel the positive vibe in the room. “Wow,” I overheard someone say more than once. “This is GREAT,” a friend texted from across the room. It was as if the small group of people gathered were being treated to a personal show — like we were special guests at someone’s home.
The following day, I asked Lukas if he could feel the same vibe. He did. “It was very intimate,” he said. “I have the utmost admiration for that place.”
Nelson told R&V that The Promise of the Real will return to Charley’s in December for a full-band concert.
For those who can’t wait, Nelson will take one more night out of his vacation to play a second impromptu gig at Charley’s, Wednesday night, Sept. 22. He’ll have his electric guitar, several local players and a full drum-kit on stage. If Sunday was a little bit country, Wednesday will be a lot of rock’n’roll. Essentially, however, it will be Lukas “solo” doing his thing at his favorite saloon during a quick trip home.
Nelson said Wednesday’s show will feature several special guests including Donnie Smith, Don Lopez, Tom Conway, Marty Dread, Mark Johnstone and Josh Greenbaum, among others. The music starts at 9 p.m.
Don’t miss it.