Matthew Nelson bristles at the term 'tribute tour' when referring to what he and twin brother Gunnar Nelson have devoted much of their time and energy to in the last few years.
The brothers have 100 performances lined up in 2013 for the Ricky Nelson Remembered tour to celebrate the life and work of their dad, musician and teen idol Ricky Nelson. But as their Facebook page indicates, the performances aren't so much a tour as “a multi media musical journey of the life and music of Teen Idol Rick Nelson.”
The brothers have ensured this is much more than a standard concert. “A tribute denotes an Elvis impersonator type of thing,” Matthew told Patch. “What makes this special is that it's Gunnar and I doing it. … He passed away when we were 18. We were very close to him and knew him better than most. This is really a spiritual thing for us. I think people get that when they see us do the show, that it's a very personal story from us that they come full circle in their emotions. If there's any indication of how people like it, usually at least half the audience stays and meets us afterwards. It's almost like a family reunion. People grew up with our family through the years.”
That family would be the one depicted on The Adventures of Ozzie and Harriet television show, which starred real-life grandparents Ozzie and Harriet Nelson along with uncle David and their father, Ricky.
The Ozzie and Harriet Show "ran for 14 years on television,” Matthew said. “He grew up on television and people tuned in about half way through the run of the show just to hear him sing his songs."
Ricky Nelson was the most televised rock star in history, Matthew said. The show he and his brother Gunnar are bringing across the country tries to reflect what that means. The audience will see footage of other musicians including Paul McCartney, Kris Kristofferson and John Fogerty sharing their appreciation and memories of Ricky Nelson. “We've woven a pretty cool show that's a combination of live music, amazing documentary footage and great stories,” Matthew said. “By the time people leave they really feel they know the songs and they know the guy.”
Matthew said his favorite number to play is "Garden Party," which his father wrote and produced in the latter part of his career when some in the industry considered him over, particularly as he reinvented himself in the realm of country rock. That it became a hit shows the moral of his story, reflected in his lyrics: "in the end you can't please everyone - you have to please yourself."
Fans who grew up with Ricky Nelson may have been aware of the behind-the-scenes goings on, but Matthew and Gunnar are now sharing their family's legacy with a new demographic of fans who are accompanying their parents and grandparents to the shows on this tour. Matthew estimates perhaps 60 percent of those who attend are in the 55+ age group but the rest span a spectrum. “Fans of ours are bringing their kids,” he said. “You're getting the whole family at our shows. What I love is that people are bringing other people who don't know who we are. We get a lot of kids coming and it's their first rock and roll show. Last week, we played a gig and there was this effervescent 102-year-old man, who told us he used to hang out with our grandfather in New Jersey in the 20s. It's been great.”
Family shows may not have been what Matthew and Gunnar, also known as the band Nelson, were aiming for back in the 90s when hair was long (and luscious), jeans were torn and ballads were powerful “(Can't Live Without Your) Love and Affection,” but the brothers are embracing the following that their father still has more than 25 years after his death. “We still do our own projects with our own rock band Nelson,” Matthew said. “We're still in the process of re-emerging differently with a different sound. We spend a lot of time away from home, as our dad did, and there are times when you miss your family.”
When feelings of doubt or giving up set it, Matthew says it's almost uncanny, but “I'll always get somebody who's like an angel in the autograph line and they say something like 'I'm so happy you boys are doing this and your father would be so proud,' and 'if you keep doing it, I'll keep coming.'”
These opportunities to revisit their dad's life and career and to connect with his fans, “this connects us to who we are and who we come from,” he said. “Our father never missed a show. We really feel him there, and it keeps us from missing him.”
Ricky Nelson Remembered featuring Matthew and Gunnar Nelson arrives at the Kentlake Performing Arts Center in Kent on September 7 and at the IKEA Performing Arts Center in Renton on September 8. Visit www.rickynelsonrembered.com for ticket information.