By TYLER WILSON Coeur Voice Writer
Some of Matthew Nelson’s best memories are of his grandparents and parents around Christmastime.
“It was always a big deal in our family,” Nelson said. “It’s a time for pulling the family together at the end of the year to take inventory and acknowledge what’s important in life.”
Family Christmases with the Nelsons were probably a little different than they were for the rest of us. Matthew’s grandparents were Ozzie and Harriet Nelson, famed musicians and stars of the classic sitcom, “The Adventures of Ozzie and Harriet.” His father, Eric “Ricky” Nelson also starred on the show before becoming a famous teen idol and Rock and Roll Hall of Famer.
Matthew Nelson, alongside his twin brother Gunnar, continued the family hot streak with their own successful band, hitting No. 1 on the Billboard chart with 1990’s “(Can’t Live Without Your) Love and Affection.”
But to Matthew, the Nelson family dynamic wasn’t about notoriety, fame or fortune.
“It was a completely normal thing growing up with famous people; they were just people, and we were largely unaffected by it,” Nelson said. “When George Harrison had breakfast with us, he was just this guy next door to us.”
It was music that connected their family.
“Our family was so remarkably famous for being a television family, but the real through line was the music,” Nelson said. “Our grandfather thought
television was a fad. He thought every year they’d be going back on the road. And Harriet, to the day she died, we talked hours and hours about music.”
Matthew and Gunnar conceived their stage show, “Christmas with the Nelsons,” to celebrate both the music and traditions of the three famed generations. The concert, which will be performed Friday, Dec. 1 at the Coeur d’Alene Casino Resort, is a mix of live music, storytelling and multimedia that connects three distinct-but-unifying eras of Christmas celebrations.
Heralded as a mix of “Everly Brothers-style harmonies and Smothers Brothers-style comedy,” Matthew said the first section focuses on Ozzie, Harriet and stories of their father as a child in the 1950s. The middle act focuses on how he and his brother grew up in the ‘70s.
“It was a time where toys were designed to kill you, and kids weren’t bubble wrapped,” Nelson said.
Finally, the show climaxes on raising children in the modern age. Though times have changed, the Christmas season has a way of centralizing what’s important, Nelson said.
“The things that matter the most are the people around you and telling them that you love them while you have the chance,” Nelson said.
Nelson emphasized the concert as a “Christmas” show too, and spoke to the importance of faith at this time of year.
“I know it sounds cheesy, but I think (this show) is what the world needs right now,” he said.
Though he prefers to keep aspects of the show a surprise, Nelson teased a multi-generational take on “Jingle Bells,” the only song all three generations of Nelson musicians have released in some form.
“Obviously, we have to do all three back-to-back,” he said. “Within seven minutes you hear all generations play the same song… and they are all very different arrangements.”
Audiences might also hear a rendition of “This Christmas,” an original song from Matthew and Gunnar that has hit the Billboard charts in two different forms the last couple years. One version features Wendy and Carnie Wilson.
Fans often tell Nelson that they feel like they grew up with the family while watching them on television. The show is intended to give those fans a more personal look at life with his parents and grandparents, he said.
“We’ve been doing this for so long and it can be an ugly business, but the best part about it are the people - the fans,” Nelson said. “All that business stuff goes completely away. It evaporates when we’re singing to our audience. That’s happened for three generations, and this is the... time we get to let people into that.”
“We’ve got a story of a family, not necessarily a famous family, but a family,” he said.