Sports, not music, defined Chris Lucas' 1990s adolescence, when the Towson-born aspiring second baseman dreamt of playing professional baseball.
But after multiple injuries, he faced an uncertain future.
"I ended up tearing my knee about six times. I was like, 'Maybe this isn't what I'm supposed to do,'" Lucas said on the phone last week.
His new path began in an unlikely location: karaoke night at the Curtis Bay bar Fred & Margie's. His performance led a stranger to suggest Lucas audition as an entertainer for the Virginia amusement park Kings Dominion.
"That's where I started singing," he said.
Today, Lucas is one-half of LoCash, a Nashville country duo with a gold single ("I Love This Life") and a newly released album ("The Fighters") that have many country fans paying close attention. For years, LoCash — which also features Preston Brust — worked behind country's scenes, but the duo's recent success has thrust them into the genre's spotlight and taken them around the world.
On Saturday, LoCash headlines Rally in the Valley, the all-day festival at Frederick Fairgrounds.
Lucas, who also lived in Lansdowne and Pasadena, called having a breakout hit "surreal." ("I Love This Life" reached No. 2 on Billboard's Country Airplay chart in January.) But because he and Brust spent years toiling in relative Nashville obscurity — playing countless bar gigs, writing unused demos for other artists — the success now feels earned.
They feel ready, not overwhelmed, for the moment, he said.
"When me and Preston met, we dreamed about this, and it took over 10 years for it to happen," Lucas said. "It's more humbling because we have had the tough times, and when I say 'tough,' they were tough."
They began in 2004 as the LoCash Cowboys. The inspiration for the name came from Brust's friends, who called themselves the Locash Money Boys, reflecting their mentality that life was about more than a bank account.
That sensibility fell in line with LoCash's humble beginnings. They frequently played live, continued to make industry connections and found minor success with singles "Here Comes Summer" and "Keep in Mind."
But by the summer of 2011, after experiencing losses both personal (Lucas' father and aunt passed away months earlier) and professional (their record label had just dropped them), Lucas wondered if it was once again time to pivot.
Sitting in an apartment he could barely afford with his child in his arms, Lucas cried to his wife, wondering how he was going to make this career work.
"Five minutes after having that conversation, Keith Urban called and said, 'I'm going to put out 'You Gonna Fly' and make it a single,'" Lucas said. "That's when my life changed. … Right when you think it's never going to happen, a light appears."
After "Fly" came Tim McGraw's 2012 hit "Truck Yeah," also written by Lucas and Brust. With credits on two hits by A-list stars , LoCash recommitted to launching their own careers as artists and dropped "Cowboys" from their name. In late 2014, they signed to Reviver Records.
LoCash has since found more success on the radio, and no song encapsulates the duo's appeal like "I Love This Life."
Released in February 2015, the energetic "Life" hits the touchstones of modern country-pop in less than three-and-a-half minutes, from the slick and stomping production to the instantly hummable chorus. Delivered with anthemic gusto, the hook is simple but effective.
"I love my small town world / I love a country girl / I love a Friday night / Man, I love this life," the duo sings.
Lucas grew up loving '90s R&B and rock as much as Garth Brooks, so LoCash's sound naturally pulls from all directions. Some Nashville traditionalists have balked at LoCash's penchant for pop, but the duo remains unconcerned, Lucas said.
"It is very radio-friendly. It's very danceable," he said. "We like to put smiles on people's faces, and I think this record does that."
Released in June, "The Fighters" has 11 tracks cut from a similar, populist-reaching cloth. Follow-up single "I Know Somebody" recently cracked the Top 25 of the Billboard Country Airplay chart.
The singer/songwriter said LoCash would support the album on the road for the rest of 2016.
"We are doing show No. 140 tonight, and that's just this year," he said.
While he lives to hear fans singing his words back to him, there's something special for Lucas whenever he returns home to perform in Maryland.
"It's unbelievable to see my family, when I'm looking at them on stage," he said. "You want to share it with your family and friends you grew up with because they believed in you, too. It's a surreal moment, and it's humbling."