Lukas Nelson & Promise of the Real Say Farewell, For Now

It really can’t be emphasized enough just what a generational talent Lukas Nelson is, as a songwriter, as a singer, as a guitar player, and as a bandleader. The fact that he’s Willie Nelson’s son doesn’t aid this assessment, it helps obfuscate it, because you just can’t believe that such talent passed to a second generation.

But if we’re being honest, Lukas Nelson may even be more talented than pops when making a pound for pound assessment, even if nobody compares to Willie when it comes to the towering legacy he’s amassed over his career.

It’s so easy to overlook what Lukas Nelson contributes because his career so far has been so unselfish. Same goes for his long-time backing band, Promise of the Real. Originally formed in 2008, the inspiration for the band was the mutual love for the music of Neil Young between Nelson and Promise of the Real drummer Anthony LoGerfo. They saw a space to step into making Neil Young-inspired country rock, and Promise of the Real was born.

The idea for the band was hatched at a Neil Young concert. Then after performing with Neil Young during Farm Aid in 2014, the idea by Neil to go out with Lukas Nelson and Promise of the Real as his backing band was hatched. Between 2014 and 2019, this pairing was an regular occurrence on tour. Lukas and Promise of the Real also joined Young in the studio for the 2015 album The Monsanto Years and on 2017’s The Visitor, as well as appearing on the Neil Young live album Earth from 2016.

Through this era, Lukas Nelson and Promise of the Real would play their own shows as well, and released multiple albums, including their self-titled album from 2017 that became their breakout, debuting at #2 on the Billboard Country Albums chart. Promise of the Real also consists of Corey McCormick on bass, Logan Metz on keyboards and lap steel, and Tato Melgar on hand percussion. Bassist Merlyn Kelly was also an early member.

It was while playing with Neil Young at the now legendary Desert Trip concert in Indio, California in 2016 that Lukas caught the eye of actor Bradley Cooper who was working on an updated version of A Star Is Born. Cooper decided to make Lukas a consultant for the film, and Lukas and Promise of the Real ultimately became the backing band in the film, giving them even more recognition.

Even before playing with Neil Young, Promise of the Real was a collaborative project. In 2012 they backed John Fogerty on a Canadian tour, and also performed with Bob Weir of The Grateful Dead fame. Throughout his career, Lukas Nelson has regularly appeared with his father on tour as a guitar accompanist—a duty he still performs to this day, sometimes taking turns with his brother Micah Nelson of the band Particle Kid.

All of these collaborative efforts make it’s hard to miss Lukas Nelson and Promise of the Real, but also easy to overlook. They’re not a “hit” band. They’ve never looked to “break out.” They just want to be part of America’s music story wherever they fit. But since they also don’t fit perfectly into either country or rock and straddle the world in-between, they’re rarely deservedly celebrated in either.

On Monday, June 3rd, the band said in a statement, “After 15 unforgettable years, Promise of the Real has decided to take a well-earned hiatus, and begin a new creative chapter in all of our lives. Lukas plans to keep writing, recording, and playing shows, while the rest of us will continue to pursue our own projects and artistic ambitions. Expect to see a lot more great art from all of us in the near future.”

They also announced a final run of six shows (see below), while also saying, “We continue to love playing together, and we intend to work together again in the future, both individually and as a group,” so it’s likely not the end for good.

The writing seemed to be on the wall when some recent appearances by Lukas Nelson didn’t include the band. Late last month, Nelson appeared at DelFest, but was backed by The Travelin’ McCoury’s. Nelson appeared at his father’s ranch as part of the 2024 Luck Reunion in March, but performed solo. It can’t be easy to keep Promise of the Real as a cohesive unit when touring and other commitments are so intermittent.

Lukas Nelson is no longer a scrappy young man out there looking to make a name all of his own like he was when he dropped out of school to form Promise of the Real. But he’s always seemed just as content to be on the side or in the back of the stage than standing out front, and to take time off to make sure to soak up life, seeking more of a balance to his career than ultimate superstardom.

But that doesn’t mean the Lukas Nelson doesn’t have the talent to carry the Nelson legacy forward, and forge a legacy all his own. Whether it’s with Promise of the Real or otherwise, you can expect Lukas Nelson to carry on, and to continue to contribute importantly to the American music legacy.

Promise of the Real Tour Dates:

June 7 – McKinney, TX – KHYI’s 28th Annual Texas Music Revolution
July 25 – Sacramento, CA – Cal Expo
July 28 – White Sulphur Springs, MT – Red Ants Pants Fest
August 2 – Big Sky, MT – Wildlands Festival
August 26 – Jackson Hole, WY – Center for the Arts
August 30 – Aspen, CO – JAS Labor Day Experience

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