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Lukas Nelson, Shooter Jennings to perform at benefit concert

A new generation of outlaws will take Claremont by storm on Saturday, January 17 when Shooter Jennings and Lukas Nelson & Promise of the Real perform at Bridges Auditorium. The sons of country legends Waylon Jennings and Willie Nelson, Lukas and Shooter will be joined by guest musician Peter Harper.

Proceeds from the Americana and roots rock extravaganza will benefit the Claremont Community Foundation (CCF), a nonprofit organization championing charitable giving to improve the quality of local life. CCF beneficiaries include, among other causes, Habitat for Humanity, The Rancho Santa Ana Botanic Garden, The Red Cross, Special Olympics, The Inland Pacific Ballet, Foothill Aids Project and Friends of the Claremont Library.

In the last couple of years, CCF has added a concert to its roster of fundraisers, which includes the yearly Party Parade and Mi Casa Su Casa, a benefit organized jointly with the Claremont Educational Foundation. Previous performances included shows by noted local musicians Michael Ryan and Rod Gilfrey, both held at Garrison Theatre.

This year, CCF board chair Paul Steffen and his fellow board members decided to expand the gig to include a national act. Mr. Steffen reached out to local talent buyer Robin Young, who managed to nab Lukas for the show.

A change of venue was in order when the folks who run Garrison Theater said they weren’t really set up to do a rock and roll show and suggested Ms. Young talk to Kurt Beardsley, the production manager at Bridges Auditorium. Mr. Beardsley was amenable to setting up a gig with Lukas Nelson, an able singer songwriter who classifies the sound he and his quartet has crafted as “cowboy hippie surf rock.”

Mr. Beardsley had another suggestion: raise the stakes by getting Shooter Jennings on the bill. As a big fan, he knew that Shooter occasionally played with Lukas, bound together not so much as by a matching sound but by a shared enthusiasm for roots-based music and a shared history. Both musicians pretty much grew up on tour buses, with Lukas traveling the country with the elder Mr. Nelson and Shooter joining his dad Waylon and mom Jessi Colter on the road. With Shooter on board, Bridges Auditorium became co-producer of the concert.

Ms. Young decided local talent should also be represented and asked Peter Harper to serve as an opening act. Once known more for his metal sculptures than for music, Mr. Harper has delved increasingly into music in recent years, singing and playing original music on the four-string tenor guitar.

“He played at Bridges a couple years ago with the Mali All-Stars and was on the roster of last year’s folk music festival. He’s very popular. He’s made a lot of strides in a short amount of time. I’m kind of proud of him,” Ms. Young said.

The local angle is also represented by the presence of Promise of the Real bassist Corey McCormick. Mr. McCormick grew up in Montclair where, as a budding musician, he was no stranger to the Claremont music scene. He stopped in from time to time at the Folk Music Center, which was founded by Mr. Harper’s grandparents Charles and Dorothy Chase. Today, Peter’s mother Ellen Chase is manager of the store.

Mr. McCormick, who lives in Pasadena, started playing trumpet in school and played the horn all the way through his first year at Citrus College. Located in Glendora, the community college is noted for its strong music program.

“My dad had a guitar laying around the house and I learned some piano,” he said. “I decided to play upright bass one day. I transferred to Long Beach State, finished my degree in classical bass performance and the rest is history.”

After teaching in the music department at Citrus for five years, teaching bass and guitar students and starting a jazz combo, Mr. McCormick met Lukas and was impressed. In 2010, he came in as the band’s third bass player.

“My first impression is that he sounds exactly like Willie and plays guitar like Stevie Ray Vaughn,” he said.  “I saw potential with Lukas—I thought this could really turn into a real band where I could make a career out of it.”

Lukas may have some an impressive pedigree, but he and his band aren’t exactly coasting on Willie’s coat tails. The first two years Mr. McCormick was in the band, which is completely independent, they played 500 shows.

“The world has changed for us as musicians. Selling records is pretty much over. Touring is how you do it,” he explained. “What we’re trying to do is grow slowly as a band and build an audience so we can always tour and be successful doing that. Everyone thinks I’m rich, but we’re still struggling like any other band.”

The bassist’s influences are heavily rooted in jazz, and the genre’s focus on improvisation has proved helpful as he jams with Lukas, who is gaining notice for his musicianship.

“It’s interesting to play with Lucas,” Mr. McCormick said. “He grew up playing with his dad—it’s kind of his only reference point—so he plays a lot like his dad. His dad floats over the time. He’s not really playing time. The way he phrases vocals and guitar is very much on his own plane.

“Some would say he’s loose,” Mr. McCormick continued. “It’s a feel thing, to know that he’s doing what he’s doing, and I have to lock into the drummer. We interact and jam a lot and play off each other. I really like playing with him live because he’s very high energy.”

Given nearly nonstop touring, Mr. McCormick works hard to keep his own energy level. 

“The challenge is trying to stay normal on the road,” he said.  “I have a rule: no matter what night before, I get up in the morning, go to the gym, practice my bass and be productive in the morning. It turns into not sleeping much, but I take naps during the day. I made a decision that no matter what, I’ve got to stay normal. It’s easy to turn into a zombie and sleep till two.”

Mr. Nelson is not only influenced by his dad’s playing style but by his well-earned reputation for philanthropy. Willie Nelson has notably been active with Farm Aid, done benefits for cancer research and this past September joined Neil Young in a concert protesting the Keystone Pipeline. 

“I’m hoping we can get more involved as years go around,” he said. “To me, that’s what being an artist is, to have a voice.”

As far as his fellow voice in the upcoming Bridges gig, Mr. McCormick has high praise for Waylon Jennings’ son, who has forged his own reputation in the realms of country and rock.

“Shooter’s rad,” he said. “We’ve done a couple tours with him in the past.”

Tickets for the concert, which runs from 8 to 10:30 p.m., range from $33 for balcony seats to $108 for a spot in the pit. For tickets, visit Pomona.edu/bridges or call the Box Office at (909) 607-1139.

—Sarah Torribio

storribio@claremont-courier.com

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