Lukas Nelson and the Promise of the Real in Waco, at Brazos Nights (4/2/2010)

By Carl Hoover

Country singer-songwriter Wade Bowen’s no stranger to Waco. He grew up here and frequently brings his band back to play shows.

So when asked about playing the opening concert of the city’s free Brazos Nights series, one that draws thousands of music fans to downtown Waco, his first reaction focused not on his coming back to town, but how this show differs from his past visits. “A free show’s going to open up our audience to people who like the environment and the price,” he said, speaking by phone from Little Rock, Ark., where he recently performed. “It’s a different setting for us and the band, too.”

Bowen and his band headline Friday’s concert, which features blues-rocker Lukas Nelson — Willie Nelson’s son — and his The Promise of the Real band as opening act.

Bowen’s Brazos Nights appearance comes on the eve of the April 27 release of a live CD/DVD set recorded at Billy Bob’s Texas in Fort Worth. That release includes two CDs and a DVD, a larger-than-usual package than most live country albums. “We put almost the entire show on there,” Bowen explained. “The way things are going in the music industry and in the economy, we wanted to give people their money’s worth.”

“2009 was a huge year for us. We performed at the Grand Ole Opry. We had our first West Coast run. We had record crowds and we won some awards that were fan-based and fan-oriented,” he said. “We recorded the live album, and I got to write with (Texas songwriting dean) Guy Clark.”

Bowen, who lives with his wife and two sons in New Braunfels, is working to polish his songwriting chops, focusing on different styles and approaches. “I’m trying really hard to make my songwriting better,” he said.

Lukas Nelson, 21, finds himself more on the folk-blues-rock branch than country on the musical tree, but feels equally at ease and satisfied with a life in music.

“We’re making it — by all of our standards, we’re successful,” he from Venice Beach, Calif., where he lives.

That means his four-man band, which he and bass guitarist Merlyn Kelly formed about a year ago, has toured East and West Coasts to enthusiastic audiences, even though the band just wrapped up its first EP, “Brando’s Paradise Sessions.”

“We have the EP, we’ve been on YouTube videos and have merchandizing,” he said. “We’re not on iTunes yet, but we’re working on it.”

Nelson, who caught the guitar bug as a 11-year-old after being exposed to the music of Jimi Hendrix on a trip to San Francisco, already has played with the likes of B.B. King, the Dave Matthews Band and Bob Dylan.

Oh, and his dad, too.

We’re together quite a bit, actually,” he said. “It was cool growing up with him. You understood what the music life was about . . . and my dad was a good example of how to stay humble and nice.”

The younger Nelson, whose mother, Annie, is Willie’s fourth and present wife, began music studies at Loyola Marymount University in southern California, only to quit his studies to play full-time in the area. He makes his Waco debut on Friday and is looking forward to playing — but then, he said, that’s true every time he’s onstage.

“This is going to be fun. We’ll jump around and make a show out of it,” he said.

Brazos Nights fans may see a slight difference in Friday’s layout. Ongoing construction at the Waco Convention Center will force a change in orientation in the Brazos Nights main stage. Instead of paralleling University-Parks Drive, the stage will swing slightly toward the Waco Suspension Bridge.

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