Last year, North Mississippi Allstars opened a Red Butte show for fellow Southern-rockers-featuring-tandem-drummers Tedeschi Trucks—and in what can only be described as a bit of irony, this year, as the headliners, sharing the stage with Anders Osbourne and billed as N.M.O. (get it?), they were out-shined by their own opener, Lukas Nelson and Promise of the Real.
Though, to be fair, Nelson was more of a co-headliner—he played for 90 minutes, just as long as N.M.O.. The son of Willie Nelson (I’m sure he gets sick of being described that way, but Lukas, trust me, leverage your resources) and his band (who have a side gig playing with Neil Young, ever heard of him?) has grown into quite a performer since the first time I saw him play at a free Canyons show in Park City more than five years ago, and maybe I’m just romanticizing the way the wind ripped through his long, flowing hair as he took the stage on Friday night, but I think Nelson is having a whole lot more fun, too.
Tearing through many of his songs, fast and slow, Nelson’s set was heavy on guitar licks and psychedelic jam session interspersed with lots of country music-inspired lyrics and high kicks—and at one point Nelson played the guitar with his mouth. Again, I know he probably doesn’t like being compared to his father, but I found myself wondering throughout his set if this is what would have happened earlier if Willie and Waylon had listened to more Electric Ladyland.
After a brief intermission, N.M.O came onto the stage with such little fanfare that I legitimately thought that they were roadies noodling around on guitars, which probably says more about my awareness than anything. I mean, I thought the roadies were above average, but I blame Anders Osbourne’s Grateful Dead tee for most of my confusion.
Barreling through a set with even less banter, the brothers Luther and Cody Dickinson and Osbourne, with a full band backing them, played even more jam sessions and guitar solos, but with a decidedly more bluesy inspiration. There was no teeth on guitar strings nor high kicks—just a whole lot of solid musicianship, brotherhood and a lot of fun being had on the stage.
This is probably my bias creeping in (music critics don’t have to be unbiased, after all, in fact it’s discouraged), but I just didn’t love their set as much as I loved Nelson’s. And I can’t explain why that is—except that I’m not huge on southern rock as a general rule. Blame my Kentucky roots for overexposure, I guess. In fact, about 45 minutes into N.M.O.’s set and with my attention waning, I wandered over to the merch tent, where Nelson and his band were still meeting-and-greeting with fans—something he continued to do through the night. That is, until he joined N.M.O onstage for their final song of the night—putting him onstage during the headliner’s hour, just as he should have been all along.