Asher on Aspen: An impromptu interview with Lukas Nelson

Shannon Asher
Asher on Aspen
Lukas Nelson performs at Belly Up Aspen.
Michael Goldberg/courtesy photo

There are really wonderful weeks in life, and then there are merely average weeks. For me, as a self-proclaimed country music junkie, it was a really good week.

On a recent Tuesday afternoon, country rock artist Lukas Nelson – one of my favorite living artists – waltzed into Kemo Sabe (my place of employment) to purchase a new hat and pair of boots. After dressing him up with the essential western attire, we invited him upstairs to the store’s private bar.

We conversed casually as we drank a margarita standing belly up to the bar. It was at this point that an unplanned interview took place. He graciously agreed to answer a few questions, and before he had a chance to change his mind, I started firing away.

That night and the following, his Grammy Award-winning Lukas Nelson & Promise of the Reel was set to headline Belly Up for their 14th and 15th performance at the iconic local venue.

“I love coming back to Aspen because of the community of people here,” Nelson told me as he casually took a sip of his cocktail. “All the locals seem to be very tight-knit and deeply concerned about each other’s well-being. Once you become friends with a few of them, you start to really see the real culture of Aspen. I’m grateful to have been able to join in on a little bit of that.”

I motioned over to my co-worker and asked if she could turn down the music.

“It’s fine, this is a really good song,” he said while humming along to a tune by The Band that bellowed over the loudspeaker. I smiled with agreement and continued.

Lukas Nelson performs at Belly Up Aspen.
Michael Goldberg/courtesy photo

“I’ve got a lot of new stuff that I’ve written,” Nelson piped up. “It’s more fun and geared towards a live show. When I was out on the road, I wrote quite a bit. I realized that people just want to dance and have fun and get lost in the music. Sometimes it’s just a matter of helping them feel something. I think it’s a perfect recipe for a live show. … The live show’s really where it’s at. Whenever I do a record, I just think about how I’m going to present the songs live.”

Coincidentally, Nelson was here in town right before the pandemic hit: “I left Aspen on March 4th. The pop-up show at The Onion was the last show I did before the world shut down,” referring to his impromptu Red Onion performance a couple nights after he played a two-night run at Belly Up. The show happened organically, and it wasn’t promoted or ticketed. Whoever happened to wander into this local bar on a random weeknight was lucky enough to witness a free show by Willie Nelson’s son. Only in Aspen!

Seeing as how this was an impromptu interview, I tried my best to keep it short and only ask questions that really intrigued me. I am always curious about the current songs that people have running on repeat. I think it says a lot about their current mood and outlook on life.

“I’m listening a lot to this one song by Roberta Flack, and it’s called ‘The First Time Ever I Saw Your Face,'” Nelson said. “She’s the woman who did ‘Killing Me Softly.’ I hadn’t really heard it before, and it just continues to blow me away.”

After discussing various other topics like musical influences and creative process, we wrapped up the interview and resumed real life. He went on his merry way to lunch at The Little Nell, and I continued on with my workday.

Fast-forward six hours and I am stationed in my usual front-row, stage left, standing position. Nelson took the stage and immediately exploded with energy and good vibes. The way he interacted with the crowd, seemingly making eye contact with everyone, was insanely powerful. He somehow had this ability to make everyone in the crowd feel important and seen. His facial expressions changed almost as frequently as his fingers changed chords, and every inch of his body seemed to be moving in nonstop motion.

Lukas Nelson performs at Belly Up Aspen.
Katie Kramer/courtesy photo

Looking around, it was fascinating to watch how each patron chose to appreciate the show. Some fans sang every single word in sync with Nelson while others just quietly bobbed along and smiled softly. Some felt the need to dance while others preferred sitting back and closing their eyes. Isn’t it wild how the music can hit each person so drastically differently? For me, it’s like therapy.

Despite his exuberant demeanor, there remained a mystery about Nelson on the stage. You could tell that he takes his song writing very seriously. The lyrics are clearly born from real things that he’s experienced. His top-charting single “Find Yourself” describes intense heartbreak where he is tired of the “crazy games” his lover is playing. My personal favorite “Can You Hear Me Love You” is up for somewhat of an interpretation but I always imagine he’s singing about his love for someone who has passed away. These are clearly real people and real situations. His mystique grew with every lyric as each phrase begged the question “What happened? What inspired this song?”

The encore was sensational, and it reminded me of a Fourth of July fireworks finale. It went off with a bang! He came back on with “Something Real,” which is always an energetic crowd pleaser. “Something” by the Beatles and “Get Together” by The Youngbloods had everyone on their feet swaying back and forth and singing along. They also played one debut song that I heard rumor might be on their next record. “May I Kindly Use the Phone?” was instantly stuck in my head and has been ever since. The song is a hilarious anecdote about stumbling into the wrong person’s house while intoxicated. To me, it resembled an old honky-tonk, knee-slapper with cheerful piano riffs. It reminded me of Johnny Cash’s “Jackson” – that twangy, upbeat tune that just sticks in your head forever. I absolutely loved it and it was surprisingly one of my favorite moments of the show.

Thankfully, I had tickets to see him the second night as well as a private show the third night, so I certainly had ample opportunity to hear it again. This made for three nights in a row of really good music therapy. Nearly two weeks later I am still riding that unbearably sweet concert high. I think that to be successful in the music business, you have to believe you have something to offer. You have to be completely convinced that your purpose in life is to be on stage. Lukas Nelson believes it, and it surely shows.

Aspen Times Weekly

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