There’s a host of questions I’d like to ask Micah Nelson. What was it like growing up the son of country legend Willie Nelson? What’s it like to play alongside the old man? How did he adopt his Particle Kid stage moniker? How does he balance such a busy schedule?
We’ll get to all that, but first, Nelson wants to talk cars. Keep in mind, however, this isn’t exactly two dudes talking old school Corvettes and Mustangs. Rather, Nelson is in process of turning his 1985 Mercedes Turbo Diesel Wagon into a car that runs on recycled vegetable oil. I find this fascinating, not only the image of Nelson and his buddy Mario setting up their own makeshift gas station, but the picture of them going from restaurant to restaurant, collecting used cooking oil.
Nelson’s reasoning for doing so is quite simple, actually.
“Well, doing this not only benefits the local economy,” Nelson contends, “it also saves me a shit ton of money.”
Okay, now we can talk music. Those unfamiliar with Nelson’s the Particle Kid can see it for themselves when he takes the state on Sunday, July 1 as part of the Outlaw Music Festival at Cynthia Woods Mitchell Pavilion in The Woodlands. Other acts on the bill include the aforementioned Willie Nelson, Sturgill Simpson, The Head and the Heart, Ryan Bingham and Micah’s brother Lukas, playing as part of Promise of the Real.
“Anyone who’s lucky enough to play music with their family, especially with their parents and their elders, it really gives you a great sense of purpose,” Nelson said. “You are recognizing the musical soul, and it’s a really lucky thing to have. For a lot of people, it’s tough to relate to an older generation and vice versa. But music can connect anyone, and that’s a special thing.”
Nelson’s musical roots run deep, but to classify the Particle Kid in the vein of his famous father wouldn’t be entirely accurate. Whereas Willie is renowned in country circles for his outlaw tales, Micah’s Particle Kid is a bit more experimental, so much so that he was recently named one of 20 “New Classic” Creative Visionaries by Rolling Stone.
So, no, Willie doesn’t get all the credit for Micah’s early success as a musician. He, does, however, earn credit for the Particle Kid’s name itself.
More than a dozen years ago, as teenage Micah played video games, the elder Nelson wandered out of his poker room in a cloud of marijuana smoke. Micah had just returned home from a field trip, so Willie – with a “shit-eating grin,” per Micah – welcomed home the “Particle Kid.” Micah, having no idea what the old man meant, simply shrugged it off as Willie being Willie.
Years later, he finally got around to asking what his father meant by Particle Kid.
“He meant to say ‘prodigal son,’ but he was so stoned, it came out as ‘particle kid,’” Micah said. “That weed keeps getting better and better.”
In the years since, the Particle Kid has done plenty well for himself. He has put out a couple of records under the Particle Kid name and recorded an album with his father and brother, released late last year. But to limit Micah to his work as the Particle Kid wouldn’t do his art justice.
Nelson’s various other activities include:
*Hand-designing Space Gnome playing cards, with a portion of sales benefitting The Bridge School, whose educational programs serve children with severe physical disabilities and speech impairments.
*Serving as a member of Insects vs. Robots, a “psychedelic freak-folk-rock space-punk gnome-orchestra.” Again, dude isn’t just a country musician.
*Performing alongside such legends as Neil Young and Willie Nelson.
*Serving as a board member for the National Hemp Association, helping raise awareness for industrial hemp farmers. He also grows his own hemp plants and, as previously mentioned, drives the souped-up veggie oil wagon.
“My girlfriend Alex keeps me on time for things, and there’s no way I’d be able to pull all this stuff off if it wasn’t for her,” Nelson said. “She’s my life roadie, and she’s my partner. She helps keep my world organized, because I’m always thinking about the next thing.”
If Nelson’s track record is any indication, the next thing won’t be any one thing at all.
The Outlaw Music Festival, featuring Willie Nelson, Sturgill Simpson, Particle Kid, and many more, is scheduled for 2 p.m. on Sunday, July 1 at Cynthia Woods Mitchell Pavilion in The Woodlands, 2005 Lake Robbins. For information, call 281-364-3010 or visit woodlandscenter.org. $35-$149.50, plus fees.