He’s Willie Nelson’s son, but Lukas Nelson’s star is rising on his own

Lukas Nelson and Promise of the Real play Motorco Music Hall in Durham on Sunday, Nov. 12.
Lukas Nelson and Promise of the Real play Motorco Music Hall in Durham on Sunday, Nov. 12. Jacob Blickenstaff

Every year, it feels like there is one Grammy Award nominee in the Album of the Year category who makes everyone stop and say, “Who?” Not that the artist isn’t worthy of the nomination, just that they might not have become a household name alongside the likes of Beyoncé and Katy Perry.

Don’t be surprised if the world is shocked by Lukas Nelson & Promise of the Real in 2018.

The band members aren’t rookie musicians by any stretch of the imagination, having formed in 2008. And Nelson certainly has the pedigree to be a musician; his father is a household name: Willie Nelson.

But this is the year that Lukas Nelson and the rest of the band have really made a name for themselves. Following the August release of their self-titled fourth album – which landed at an impressive No. 2 on the Billboard Country Albums chart in its debut week – the group was able to revel a bit after finding that they had both a critical and commercial hit on their hands. And this time, Nelson’s famous father was only mentioned in passing in most articles.

“There was definitely that sigh of relief that happens, pretty much as soon as the news came in that people liked it,” Nelson says on the phone as he was in the midst of a European tour.

“The first reviews began to come in, and they were good, so that was nice to hear,” he said. “Also, I know I’ve got a great band, and I can write a good song and play it live. I’m not insecure in my ability to stand on my own as a musician, you know? I think having those things solidified have kept me from worrying too much about (comparisons to my dad).”

Nelson said he knows his father’s legendary status is part of his own story, and he’s OK with that. He said he’ll likely talk about it for the rest of his career. Now, though, he’s being recognized on his own merits.

“More and more, as more people hear my music, they’ll see that I’m doing my own thing,” he said. “That’s by design, as I knew I’d have to practice a lot harder than other people if I ever wanted to stand out. I didn’t want to be just some mediocre musician that is the son of a famous musician.”

Perhaps Nelson’s disdain for mediocrity accounts for the band’s work schedule for the last few years. Before the new album’s release, the band was arguably most famous for being Neil Young’s backing band on both his 2015 album “The Monsanto Years,” as well as the tour that followed. Young’s relationship with the band has helped it form the work ethic that it has today.

“Neil has just always been a big influence on us,” Nelson says. “I think one of the biggest things I picked up from (working with) him was attention to detail, and to focus on the music; also, the ability to put your trust in the moment.”

That means not overdoing things and letting the music come out as it’s supposed to, he said.

“If there are a few mistakes here and there, just be OK with that, because they are just organic moments,” Nelson says. “That’s just being real (when playing music) in the highest sense.”

That sense of trusting in the moment might also apply to the band’s touring schedule since the release of the album. Having spent the last few months playing both headlining and support gigs across the country, Nelson and his band will roll into Durham’s Motorco Music Hall Nov. 12 for a stop on their current co-headlining tour with the “Queen of Outlaw Country” Nikki Lane.

Being a part of the Stagecoach Spotlight Tour – named after the popular California country music festival – should serve as a clue of the band’s immediate future within the country music genre, but its album is also being touted as a frontrunner for Americana honors in the new year. These constant changes in roles and categorization are also something that falls under Nelson’s rule of “trust(ing) in the moment.”

“I don’t think much about where we play on a tour – I leave that up to my management – but sometimes we headline, sometimes we open; sometimes we’re Neil’s band, sometimes we’re Dad’s band,” the young frontman says. “That’s just the type of band that we are, just going with the flow. I’m happy to be anywhere selling music, honestly, so wherever they want to put me or call, it is fine. As long as it’s getting out there, and it’s just a vehicle to get my music out there, it’s fine. I appreciate it.”


Who: Lukas Nelson & Promise of the Real

When: 8 p.m. Sunday, Nov. 12

Where: Motorco Music Hall, 723 Rigsbee Ave., Durham 27701

Cost: $22 in advance, $25 day of show

Info: TicketFly.com or motorcomusic.com