Dance Party

musicJudah & the Lion brings a folk-Americana sound to Birmingham.

by Lindsey Lowe


Think about the moments that have changed your life; there are the ones of grandeur—walking down the aisle, perhaps—but often, the great big ones masquerade as insignificant. It’s only later, when you turn back to look, that you can point them out: “That changed everything.” It was this kind of serendipity that gave folk-Americana band Judah & the Lion its start. The trio met in 2011 while attending Belmont University in Nashville, when lead vocalist and guitarist Judah Akers began asking around for a banjo player. He wasn’t looking for a band—he just wanted to try out some songs he’d written with a banjo—but the three began playing together, and as they say, the rest is history. Akers, along with fellow members Brian Macdonald (mandolin, backing vocals) and Nate Zuercher (banjo, backing vocals), feels like they’ve found something that can last. “One southern passionate soul, one northern fearless talent, and one bearded big-hearted Colorado boy come together and make sounds of hope for a young generation,” the band says. “We hope to continue to do this for years to come.” Each member contributes something different, Macdonald says. “Nate is musically minded, great at building song structure, and a talented player. Judah has a strong message and strong vision for songs. And I would say my strength is maximizing these traits in the other guys, dreaming big, and making it all come together. How that translates on stage: basically one big dance party,” he says.

Their first project together was 2012’s EP titled First Fruits, which was a worship album. Their second EP, Sweet Tennessee, came along in 2013 and was welcomed joyfully into the world. It’s decidedly more secular, but Macdonald says the themes of hope and love remain—the band has just opened themselves to a more diverse audience. “Our main goal is that through our music we can share hope with people who we wouldn’t normally connect with. It’s hard to tell if we will write worship music as a band in the future, although if you pay attention to our music lyrically, all those themes are still there. So to us, all of our music is considered worshipful, but not everybody has to view it that way if they don’t want to,” he explains.

Sweet Tennessee, boasting a bit more folky twang than First Fruits, made waves on a number of charts, including reaching No. 2 on Bluegrass, No. 9 on Heatseekers, and No. 15 on Folk. The album also made it to No. 1 on the iTunes Singer/Songwriter chart and broke into the Top 25 overall albums chart. And it’s no wonder. Judah & the Lion’s sound is the kind that makes it hard not to dance while you’re at work; it’s toe-tapping, Saturday-morning kind of stuff. They say that that’s exactly what they have hoped it would be. “We hope our music can set people free to have fun. It makes people want to completely be ‘themselves.’ Meaning we hope it inspires people to be the best at being them,” they say. “That may sound cheesy, but it’s true. We hope people love the dancing. Yeah, the dancing!” In fact, their song “Hold On,” advises you to “just let go / and do your hippie dance.”

That song appears on their most recent release, their first full-length album, called Kids These Days (released in September of this year). According to their website, Kids These Days “explores a new range of emotional territory, writing about love and fear and joy and all the nuanced spaces in-between. The songs on this album are about past and future, adventure and family, confusion and hope—a collection of stories about being young, about finding your way, while discovering yourself.” Macdonald agrees that Kids These Days is something brand-new: “It has definitely evolved. We love calling it folk-hop. It’s got a strong backbeat so you can definitely dance to it, but we are also using folk instruments.” They’re on tour now promoting Kids These Days and will stop in Birmingham at Workplay on Dec. 5.

They invite you out to the show, which they say is sure to include plenty of dancing (in fact, if you’re coming to the show, they ask that you bring your party pants.) And they say that they feel they truly connect with the people at their shows. “We feel that music gives us a great platform to connect with people. It’s really cool to think that what starts out as a song can somehow make an impact on someone is amazing,” they say. “We love this ride! It makes us come alive. If our music doesn’t actually move us or inspire us, then what’s the point? We are inspired and moved by our music and that’s what we love.”


Upcoming Events

12/11: Jeremy Moore at Bottletree. For fans of Ben Rector, Joshua Radin, and Ryan Adams.

12/18: Preston Lovinggood at Workplay. For fans of Bowerbirds, Fruit Bats, and Bird Courage.

12/19: Trampled by Turtles at Iron City. For fans of Dawes, Old Crow Medicine Show, and Langhorne Slim.

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