Lukas Nelson, talented singer, songwriter and guitarist, has been frequenting the Bay Area for years—with and without his father, the legendary Willie Nelson. For the past few years, Lukas, 27, has performed at the annual Music Heals International (MHI) benefit at Sweetwater Music Hall. On Monday, February 29, he’ll join fellow musicians to support the cause, with a benefit show at the Mill Valley venue.
Sara Wasserman, founder and executive director of Music Heals International, spearheads the mission to give the opportunity of learning music to Haitian children at four schools in Port-au-Prince. Each week, the children are provided with four hours of music lessons, along with access to a variety of musical instruments. Lukas and Wasserman have been working together for years, and Lukas has seen firsthand how music is helping kids in need.
“There were 70,000 refugees living in boxes, basically, and they were trying to move a bunch of people into this assisted living housing facility back when we were there,” Lukas says of a trip that he took to Haiti. “We had a tiny little place. It was just this little building and we turned it into a community center, and we taught music there. Sara basically helped start this school. Now they’ve got a bunch of instruments and they’ve got a whole school going there; it’s a music school. All those kids are going there and learning music. It’s great, really cool!”
Last year, Lukas performed at an MHI benefit show with surprise guest Bob Weir of the Grateful Dead. The collaboration between the two musicians started, Lukas says, after he played with Weir at Weir’s San Rafael-based TRI Studios.
“We did a little Jerry Garcia tribute and had some jamming fun,” Lukas says. “Bob and I became really good friends and still are. Now we are writing together, John Barlow, him and myself.”
For Lukas, touring and performing has often been a family affair. His brother Micah is part of his main project, Lukas Nelson & Promise of the Real—a “cowboy hippie surf rock” band. At a young age, Lukas toured with his father, and he’s performed with Neil Young, who recently recorded backup vocals for a track on his soon-to-be-released album, Something Real.
“I do as much as I can with Dad when I can, you know,” Lukas says. “It’s a matter of logistics. I play with Neil, and then I play with my band, and when I’m not busy I’ll go fly out and see Dad wherever he’s at and play with him … that kind of thing.”
Lukas met Neil Young through Farm Aid. “We never really spoke much and then Neil started hearing my band and then we became his band,” Lukas says. “We definitely complement each other, musically, a lot. We hear ear to ear, we see ear to ear.”
Lukas Nelson, The Grateful Bluegrass Boys, Greg Loiacono (of The Mother Hips), Jason Crosby & Elliott Peck, Grahame Lesh, The MHI All-Stars and very special surprise guests; A benefit for Music Heals International; Monday, February 29, 8pm; $37-$62; Sweetwater Music Hall, 19 Corte Madera Ave., Mill Valley; sweetwatermusichall.com.