My LA to Z: Lukas Nelson

The frontman of Promise of the Real and offspring of Willie Nelson names his favorite places in Los Angeles

Willie Nelson’s 22-year-old son has been playing rhythm guitar in his dad’s band off-and-on since he was about 13. He started college at Loyola Marymount but decided to quit and give music his full-time attention. The band that came out of the friends and contacts he made here call themselves Promise of the Real because they pledged to be true to their music and not accept too much help from outsiders (or famous dads). On March 13 it’ll be a family affair again when POTR opens for Willie’s band at the Walt Disney Concert Hall. Lukas’ group also has a new CD out April 3. “This is the first record we’ve done that is totally our own style, totally our own music,” he says. “Every song means something to me. Every one is a snapshot. All my influences can be heard, but there’s a new style. Our own style is emerging.” We talked to him about places he liked to hang out when he lived here.

Nelson, second to left, with Promise of the Real



I love Malibu. I love being up there surfing, that’s my other passion. I learned to surf as a kid in Hawaii when I was young, but Malibu’s a great spot. I grew up with Matt Meola and he’s now one of the better surfers in the world. He’s my age and we just got one of our songs in his surf video. The Malibu Inn was the first place the band ever played, that was cool. There’s also Nobu. That’s a good place to go if you want to have a nice dinner.

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Topanga Canyon

I played music up there with friends who lived there. At that point I’d just quit school and Topanga was a spot where I was hanging with people that I’d met, kind of being a gypsy. I like to get away by going to the mountains near the shore.

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I lived in Venice Beach for three years. It became too expensive to rent there because I was gone so much. We played over 250 shows last year! I used to play down at the Stronghold, but it’s not there anymore. I met a lot of characters down in Venice. I used to sit on the street and play—I was kind of a Venice rat. It’s a good place to bring people together. Gjelina obviously is a good spot. A friend knew the owner there and used to take me there a lot. And Abbot’s Habit for coffee.

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Mercedes Grill

My favorite place to eat in L.A. is called Mercedes Grill, down on Washington. I used to live about 20 feet away from that place. It’s Cuban food. Get the tomatillo pork enchiladas.

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Loyola Marymount University

I was at LMU for a year and a half. I started the band, quit school, and became a street bum for a minute. I didn’t really tell my parents that I quit until later. It didn’t go over well at first but eventually they were supportive because I was working hard and I showed them that I was. But it was my choice to cut myself off.

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Autry National Center

I was named after my godfather, Gene Autry. He was a friend of my dad’s and one of the first people to hold me. My middle name is Autry. So I’ve been to the Autry museum because of that.

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Angels Stadium

I’ve known LA for a long time. My mother grew up in Hawaiian Gardens, so she took me to a lot of places in California as a kid. I remember going to the Angels Stadium to see games because Gene Autry owned the team. 

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Les Deux

It was a Hollywood bar. That was the first place I played live in LA. with my brother once I quit school. We used to take shots and get on stage. My brother would bring a drum that he would sit on, I brought an amp and a guitar—it was just him and me. We had fun, we got the crowd into it, and I met a bunch of people that way. I knew I wanted to do something more so I kept looking for musicians to play with. 

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Photographs courtesy (in order): (1) Flickr/ caccamo, (3), (4), (5), (6) panoramio/ Oleksa Haiworonski, (7) flickr/ redheaded_pirate, (8)