Emerging folk-pop trio Judah & the Lion played its first show in front of a crowd of thousands. The gig was a student showcase at Nashville’s Belmont University, where the three band members met and started playing together back in 2011.
“It was nerve-racking to play in front of that many people at our first show, but it definitely helped us get started,” says guitarist and lead vocalist Judah Akers. “Nashville can be intimidating, but it’s also really inspiring.”
Despite the well-known competitive music landscape in its home city, Judah & the Lion has quickly become a Nashville breakout act, earning fans with an uplifting acoustic sound that blends high-paced strumming and huge hooks. Potential anthems pile up on the band’s debut full-length album, Kids These Days, which just came out in September.
A Tennessee native, Akers got his start playing in worship bands, but he eventually started writing songs with plenty of crossover appeal. They were fully realized when he met his bandmates: mandolin player Brian Mcdonald and banjo plucker Nate Zuercher. The group’s 2013 EP Sweet Tennessee reached number two on the Bluegrass Albums Chart, but on the latest album, the band explores new sonic territory.
“Now you can have a mandolin and a banjo come through a huge sound system and have it received well,” says Mcdonald. “With the new record we’re taking it to the next level by adding synth keyboard and Moog bass. It’s become a cool combo and something that’s kind of new.”
Made with producer Dave Cobb, who’s worked with Jason Isbell and Shooter Jennings, Kids These Days is full of foot-stomping Americana that’s propelled by youthful positivity. Standout songs “Twenty-Somethings” and “Rich Kids” celebrate underdog millennial ambition, while “Mason-Dixon Line” is about a Southern boy’s wide-eyed journey to big cities up north.
“We wanted to write about our community here in Nashville and what people our age are doing,” says Akers of the album’s theme. “It’s about being full of life, being true to yourself and not really worrying about that next step or having your whole life figured out. Even though a lot of people are telling us the music industry isn’t as good as it once was, we’re pursuing our dream.”
This month the band will embark on its first headlining tour up the Eastern Seaboard and into the Midwest. Southern dates include stops in Asheville, N.C., Knoxville, Tenn., Rocky Mount, Va., and Vienna, Va.
If you’re looking for ear candy this Halloween, there are plenty of big shows happening around the region on October 31.
The Avett Brothers ExploreAsheville.com Arena, Asheville, NC
Now touring with an expanded seven-piece line-up, the Avetts will start a big two-night stand in downtown Asheville on Halloween night. uscellularcenterasheville.com
Yonder Mountain String Band
Jefferson Center, Roanoke, Va
The Colorado jamgrassers have a revised roster—sans former de facto front man Jeff Austin—and now touring with mandolin player Jake Jolliff and fiddler Allie Kral. The Halloween show will feature support and an inevitable sit-in from regional hero Larry Keel. jeffcenter.org
Bela Fleck & Abigail Washburn with Del McCoury & David Grisman
Lisner Auditorium, Washington, DC
Bluegrass royalty comes together for a big night of picking. Banjo master Fleck will perform a duo set with his wife, fellow banjo player and songstress Abigail Washburn. Add to that a rare combo performance by high lonesome hero with Del McCoury and mandolin innovator David Grisman. lisener.gwu.edu
Tivoli Theatre, Chattanooga, TN
The Grammy-winning folk rocker is touring full force behind his latest album Supernova. chattanoogaonstage.com
The New Deal & Conspirator
Variety Playhouse, Atlanta, GA
A jamtronica lover’s dream is going down in the ATL with a set from Disco Biscuits offshoot Conspirator and a rare headlining show from The New Deal. variety-playhouse.com