Sunday December 31
Willie Nelson & Family New Year with Lukas Nelson and Promise of the Real and Blackberry Smoke
Austin's hometown musician, WILLIE NELSON, returns to Austin City Limits Live to ring in the new year in style with three nights featuring special guest LUKAS NELSON AND PROMISE OF THE REAL. New Year's Eve will also feature a performance by BLACKBERRY SMOKE and appearances by Father Time Texas and Baby New Year!
With a six-decade career and 200 plus albums, this iconic Texan is the creative genius behind the historic recordings of Crazy, Red Headed Stranger, and Stardust. Willie Nelson has earned every conceivable award as a musician and amassed reputable credentials as an author, actor, and activist. He continues to thrive as a relevant and progressive musical and cultural force.
In recent years, he has delivered more than 10 new album releases, released a Top 10 New York Times’ bestsellers book, again headlined Farm Aid, an event he co-founded in 1985, received his 5th degree black belt in Gong Kwon Yu Sul, headlined the last three years of the on-going Luck Reunion food and music festival at his ranch in Luck, TX during SXSW, announced the launch of his cannabis company Willie’s Reserve, and graced the cover of Rolling Stone magazine.
In 2015, Nelson added “It’s A Long Story: My Life,” the unvarnished and complete story of Willie, hit bookshelves and landed him on the New York Times’ bestsellers list; and a new studio album with Merle Haggard titled Django And Jimmie, which debuted at #1 on Billboard‘s Country album chart and #7 on Billboard‘s Top 200 album chart. In November 2015, the Library of Congress honored him with their Gershwin Prize for Popular Song for his contributions to popular music. He is the first country artist to receive the distinguished award. And 2016 began with the release of Summertime: Willie Nelson Sings Gershwin, a collection of 11 newly recorded Gershwin classics. The album debuted at #1 on both the Top Current Jazz chart and the Top Traditional Jazz chart, as well as earned him a Grammy Award for the Best Traditional Pop Vocal Album. In September, came For the Good Times: A Tribute to Ray Price, an album of newly recorded interpretations of 12 Ray Price songs. While a month later, Nelson released Pretty Paper, his new novel inspired his classic holiday song of the same title about a legless man who sold wrapping paper in front of a Ft. Worth, TX department store. In April 2017, Nelson released God’s Problem Child, his latest studio album with 13 new songs. It debuted at #1 on Billboard’s Country album chart and #10 on the Billboard 200.
Nelson continues to record more new songs for upcoming projects as well as touring throughout North America year long.
Since their formation as teenagers 10 years ago, LUKAS NELSON AND PROMISE OF THE REAL have quietly developed into one of America’s most dazzling new live acts, playing hundreds of shows and major festivals all over the world, attracting a deeply devoted underground following.
Still, with a bounty of invaluable experience under their belts, nothing foretold the artistic leap of Lukas Nelson & Promise of the Real their new, self-titled album, a mesmerizing, emotionally genuine, endlessly rewarding work of cosmic country soul released on August 25th, 2017 via Fantasy Records.
Recorded at The Village Studios in West Los Angeles Lukas Nelson & Promise of the Real was produced by John Alagia (Dave Matthews Band, John Mayer) and features the band’s new six-piece line-up: Lukas Nelson (guitar, vocals), Tato Melgar (percussion), Anthony LoGerfo (drums), Corey McCormick (bass, vocals) along with new members Jesse Siebenberg (steel guitars, Farfisa organ, vocals) and Alberto Bof (piano, Wurlitzer, B3). Jess Wolfe and Holly Lessig of the indie-pop group Lucius contribute background vocals on five tracks evoking Exile on Main St.’s ecstatic, gospel-rooted harmonies, and Lady Gaga added stirring background vocals to "Carolina” and "Find Yourself.” Elsewhere, the lilting, Glen Campbell inspired gem, "Just Outside of Austin” features a guitar solo from Lukas’ dad, country music icon Willie Nelson, and piano from his 86-year-old Aunt Bobbi.
The new album includes 12 Lukas Nelson originals that draw on his country and rock lineage including literate Texas songsmiths like his father and ‘uncles’ Kris Kristofferson and Waylon Jennings, along with the enduring influence of J.J. Cale, The Band, Clapton-era Delaney & Bonnie and of course, his mentor Neil Young.
Young, an essential member of the POTR family, met the band after he caught them 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. We fell in love with each other musically, one thing led to another and we became Neil’s band.”
"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. "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. I wanted to get the songs as pure as they could be. We’ve grown.”
"Set Me Down on a Cloud,” the soulful, country-rock epic that opens the album features Lucious’ angelic background vocals and Lukas’ lovely, lyrical guitar solo as the band stretches out behind him. "Forget About Georgia” unfolds to a "Layla”-like outpouring of yearning, as it vividly retraces the turbulent, bittersweet final stages of a doomed love affair. Lukas delivers a full-throttle vocal on the closing track, "If I Started Over,” a Roy Orbison-inspired rumination of tender devotion. The R&B grind of "Find Yourself” is a particular triumph as Lukas and Lady Gaga weave an impassioned, romantic ultimatum.
BLACKBERRY SMOKE has never been a band that stands still. Whether pursuing the dream by logging hundreds of thousands of miles on America’s highways and abroad or relentlessly exploring the many facets of its most unique art form, the Atlanta quintet is always on the move.
The songs on Blackberry Smoke’s sixth album, Like an Arrow show just how far this authentic American rock band has come as the accomplished group of musicians tackles a diverse set of new ideas, sounds and territories, long after most bands with half the success might have settled into a well-worn groove.
“We’re all likeminded in that we all want to explore,” singer and principal songwriter Charlie Starr said. “There’s just no way we could make the same record over and over again, though there are some fans who would like us to. That’s just way too formulaic. If the Beatles or Led Zeppelin did that, we wouldn’t love them as much.”
Like An Arrow continues the trend of sonic exploration established on the Blackberry Smoke’s previous two releases, 2012’s The Whippoorwill and 2015’s chart-topping Holding All the Roses. It kicks off with the band’s heaviest song to date and explores British rock before moving on to musical stops in places like Macon, Woodstock, Muscle Shoals and Tulsa as Starr and his buddies follow the ramblin’ examples of timeless, authentic acts like The Allman Brothers Band, JJ Cale, The Band and others who define rock ‘n’ roll in all its many facets.
“We just want the sound of the band to continue to grow and broaden. We’re not trying to make a hip-hop record,” Starr said with a laugh. “But there’s so many elements to what people call rock. There’s gospel and country and swing and blues. We’re just trying to write songs that include all those different types of elements. It keeps it interesting for musicians and songwriters. You think, ‘Well, I don’t have a straitjacket on, I haven’t painted myself into a corner, so I can try and just make the most of this art form.’”
That’s what Starr (lead vocals, guitar), Paul Jackson (guitar, vocals), Brandon Still (keyboards), Brit Turner (leads drums) and Richard Turner (bass, vocals) have been doing for 16 years now after forming in 2001. The quintet’s blue-collar work ethic, road-dog attitude – the band averages 250 shows a year – and willingness to jam all night long have left Blackberry Smoke with a grassroots fan base that continues to grow show by show.
Holding All the Roses, produced by Grammy Award winner Brendan O’Brien, debuted at No. 1 on the Billboard Country Albums chart and No. 7 on the Rock Albums chart, proof of the band’s universality. Praised by fellow artists as diverse as Dierks Bentley and ZZ Top’s Billy Gibbons, Blackberry Smoke now delivers an album that should invite even more fans under its revival tent.
Produced by the band with O’Brien’s engineer Billy Bowers handling the recording, Like An Arrow sounds and feels exactly how the band wanted it to.
“I think that it pleasantly surprised everybody involved,” Starr said. “Not that I think working with a producer is a bad thing because it’s a very good thing. But sometimes you just go with your gut and my gut told me, ‘Let’s make this record.’ We stretched out on some songs, of course, and obviously the record is a bit more hi-fi than my homemade demos. But it really was going back to let’s get in a room and play the music.”
Like An Arrow leads off with “Waiting For The Thunder,” a song driven by dark images, towering guitars and Still’s storm-driven B3 Hammond organ. Starr says the song sets the tone for where the album lives.
“It’s dynamic and big, it’s exciting,” Starr said. “When we recorded it, from the very beginning, I felt like this was going to be the song that would lead off the record because it sort of stands alone as far as the level of excitement that the song throws at you, just right off the bat.”
The band continues its exploration of amped-up territory on the title track, a psychedelic blast of heavy metal transcendentalism.
“There are some songs that are heavier than anything we’ve ever recorded – it’s a far cry,” Starr said. “’Like An Arrow’ is the closest thing to Black Sabbath that I think we’ve ever recorded in a way. I think it surprised everybody when we pressed record and started to play it. We were like, ‘Oh, my God, this thing is massive.’”
Blackberry Smoke heads hard in the other direction, too, backing off the four-on-the-floor for different textures. “Believe You Me,” for instance, is a disco-tinged, bottom-heavy blast of country funk.
“It is one of the handful of departures on the record,” Starr said. “’Waiting For The Thunder’ or ‘Like An Arrow’ might place the album in a certain genre – whichever box might make you feel comfortable – and ‘Believe You Me’ will come along and shake up the norm. It’s not what I would consider formulaic.”
“Sunrise In Texas,” a Michael Tolcher song that’s been a fixture in Blackberry Smoke’s live set for a decade, finally makes it onto album here, also because of its uniqueness. The song opens with dobro and electric piano before building to a long-form crescendo that lets the band show off its well-honed musicianship. “Running Through Time,” written with friend Travis Meadows, takes a look at life through the eyes of an old man looking back at the struggles of his youth on a song that’s carried along on an airy, lilting guitar line like nothing else the band’s recorded.
“We both led wild lives throughout our 20s and some of our 30s, doing similar types of bad things,” Starr said. “And we laugh about it now. And so we were talking about writing a song about that idea: Who he is now and what he might have learned – and maybe what he didn’t. The yin and the yang of the young and old man. That’s the trippy one. That’s the mushroom song. Like JJ Cale recording in Muscle Shoals.”
Gregg Allman joins the band on “Free On The Wing,” a song that brings it all back home after the musical journey.
“That’s a very Macon, Georgia, kinda song,” Starr said. “To me that type of song just embodies the whole Southern rock idea to me. Because it sounds like it came out of the river, out of the Chattahoochee, out of the Southeastern United States where we all grew up. And to have Gregg Allman sing on it perfectly completes it.”
Take a 360° tour of ACL Live and get a sense of what ringing in the new year with us is like, with a special appearance by the Red Headed Stranger himself: