Experiencing Judah & the Lion Live

Judah and the Lion 2


 

With Judah & the Lion coming to the Grand Stafford in a few days, I wanted to take some time to write about my experience witnessing the band live a few years ago. Regarded as one of Nashville’s most genre bending bands, the folk-hop group is four releases deep into their promising career. Their debut album ‘Kids These Days’ brought the band it’s recognition, charting as high as number 4 on the Billboard Folk charts.

With the band’s second full-length album, ‘Folk Hop N Roll’, it is clear to see exactly where the members influences overlap. Frontman Judah Akers, along with drummer Spencer Cross, mandolin player Brian McDonald, and banjo wiz Nate Zuercher, have created a wide ranging sound, with fuzz bass, hip-hop percussion, distorted banjo riffs, and super sized melodies, all put together into one great album.



 

Judah at camp


 

In the summer of 2014, I was working at a Christian Summer Camp called Laity Lodge Youth Camp as a camp counselor. The camp is set on the Frio River deep in the hill country of Texas, Southwest of San Antonio and Kerville. Before campers arrive, the staff spends a week getting trained and getting the chance to know each other. At the end of the week, the camp directors surprised the entire 350 member staff with a private concert in our pavilion on the camp grounds. That summer, they had scored Judah & the Lion for the show.

Prior to the concert, I had never heard of the band before, because they were just on the verge of their up and becoming breakthrough. Several of my friends on staff had heard of them and had a lot of good things to say about the band, with a lot of comparisons to Mumford and Sons, but more upbeat and faster paced. I had never gone into a concert before where I had no idea what the performer sounded like, didn’t know any of the songs, or really what to expect at all.

Let met tell you, I was blown away. Set against the backdrop of the river canyon wall, Judah & the Lion put on my favorite live performance I have ever seen. The concert was phenomenal, with an abundance of catchy songs that had me singing and dancing along after hearing the chorus only one time! Songs like ‘Kickin’ da Leaves’, and ‘Rich Kids’ proved to me just why the band was rising up the charts so fast.

What really sold me and made the experience one of kind was the band’s crowd interaction. At camp, one of the running jokes is to play Creed or Nickleback whenever the chance arises. The band had just performed a cover of Eminem’s ‘Lose Yourself” that sent the entire camp staff into a frenzy and awe. We began chanting for them to perform a Creed Cover or a Nickleback cover. Low and behold, they did, and Judah Akers, the lead singer, did a spot on replication of vocals to ‘With Arms Wide Open’ and ‘Photograph’. Those performances blew the roof off of the pavilion and sent the entire staff and I into a state of pure hype and joy. This all culminated into a rap battle with one of the camp counselors and the band.

It’s safe to say that no other concert experience I can ever have will come even close to the craziness and spontaneity that Judah and the Lion exuded that night. I know I can’t wait to experience the band perform at the Stafford in a few days, and you can be sure to find me front and center enjoying what is sure to be a fantastic show.


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Judah & the Lion is set to take the Stafford stage live, on November 3rd. Tickets are still on sale for $15 in advance and $17 at the door. The doors open at 8:00pm and the music starts at 9:00pm. Special meet and greet options as well as early entrant and an acoustic performance pre-show options are available here.

We’ll see y’all there!


 

TMP Top Pick Songwriter Contest Preliminary Round Review

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I recently had the pleasure to attend the preliminary round of Texas Music Pickers, Top Pick Songwriter Contest, and I just have one word to summarize the show. “Wow!”. The talent of the performers was astounding! I felt like I was watching American Idol play out right in front of me and that I got to know each contestant personally, and continued to follow them along their journey. It was a live music experience I have never really witnessed before, and it is sure to be one I will never forget.

This was the second annual TMP Top Pick contest hosted at the Grand Stafford. In the preliminary rounds, hosted this past Saturday, 24 singer/songwriters took the stage to compete against each other in a competition that was judged based on vocal ability, songwriting ability, and instrumental ability. For each round, their were 3 guest judges who tallied up the 3 categories into one score, as well as an audience vote for their personal favorite that would be added to their final score. The top 12 scoring contestants would be selected to move on to the Final Round coming up on October 21st.

The talent was ridiculous and the cuts were brutal, with very deserving contestants not quite making it to the top 12. It wasn’t that the choices that were made were undeserving or the wrong choices, it’s just that the level of talent was so good, that in my mind, it was an impossible decision to make on who to put through to the final round.

IMG_5928No cut was more brutal in my mind, then one of my personal favorite contestants, Chrissy Phillips (pictured above) not being chosen to move on. Chrissy was one of the first contestants to perform and she set the bar so high, especially with her personal, heartfelt, original song “Leaving Girl”. She had beautiful range to her voice, with her glory notes literally leaving me chilled to the bone, with goosebumps covering my arms. She’s one that stood out above the rest, so I was definitely displeased when her name wasn’t called to advance to the final round.

IMG_5936For the most part though, most of my personal favorite contestants did indeed make it through to the next round, which makes me believe I could’ve done a good job at being a judge as well! Wishful thinking, right? The perfect example of this result was Jefferson Clay (pictured above). Maybe my favorite in the whole competition, Jefferson blew me away. In a contest full of predominantly country songwriters, I got more of an indie/acoustic vibe from Jefferson, and I was totally digging it. His original songs, “San Francisco” and “The Tide” were such a change of pace from the style of the previous contestants. I will freely admit, that I have been listening to them non-stop the past few days!

I left the show very happy and content with all the music I had heard that night. I always enjoy getting to experience a new artist and some new music so this event was the perfect place for. Getting to hear 24 unique songwriters share their stories through their music is something I won’t be forgetting anytime soon. I know I’ve cleared my schedule for Friday, October 21st to witness the Final Round go down, and see which artist comes out on top.

What’s at stake in this final round? The winner takes home the grand prize of $750 cash, the opening slot to the Dirty River Boys show at the Grand Stafford on 11/19, a recorded single from Hilltrax Studios, and song writing sessions with award winning singer/songwriters, Toney Ramey, Drew Womack, and Walt Wilkins. In the music industry today, this kind of prize is priceless and the value of it goes beyond the monetary gain. The knowledge and experience gained from receiving this prize could potentially help the winning artist make or break it in the industry.

So come on out and join me for the Final Round of TMP’s Top pick Songwriter Contest! Tickets are on sale now for $8 in advance and $10 at the door. Tickets can be purchased here. Doors open at 7pm with the show starting at 8pm. See y’all there!

Interview with John Krajicek of Leavenworth

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Recently, I got the opportunity to interview John Krajicek, the lead singer of Leavenworth, and ask some questions about his band and their upcoming debut album.


 

·        You’ve been a part of Texas A&M’s faculty since 1996. Tell me about what your role is?

I am an Executive Professor in Mays Business School, where I serve as Communications coach for MBAs and other Masters students. I teach and coach public speaking, professional presence, self-awareness, mindfulness, emotional intelligence, etc. Performing music is, of course, much different than delivering a business presentation, but it’s also surprising how much they have in common. For example, to perform well in both it is of course critical to be really well prepared, but at the same time, once the lights go on so to speak, you need to stay in the moment at all times. Be here now. Fully engaged in each moment.

·        How did the band start?

After having played in many bands over the years, including a few bluegrass bands, I just came to a point where it was time for me to start a project that was what I really wanted to do. Not that I regret any of those previous bands. I learned a lot and made some very good friends through those projects. But in most of those situations, I wasn’t playing the kind of music that is where I really LIVE musically. I’m not getting any younger, and it was just time. Time to put together a band that felt like coming home to me. And man, did I get lucky. Leavenworth started as a solo project, because I wasn’t sure I would be able to find the right guys. But I was amazed how quickly I did find these guys. Thank you, Craigslist!

·        Where did the name Leavenworth come from?

I was born in Leavenworth, Kansas. And as I said before, this project represents to me a kind of coming home, thus the name. And by the way, it was a bit odd living in Leavenworth as a young kid. The Federal prison there is very present, and I recall as a little kid wondering if I would ever encounter any escaped prisoners. Pretty heavy stuff for a 5 year old.

·        Tell me about what inspires/influences you musically and lyrically?

Well, we all stand on the shoulders of giants, and like everyone I am heavily influenced by a lot of artists. Beginning with The Beatles (specifically John Lennon) and Bob Dylan. But through the years, bands such as REM, Wilco, Death Cab for Cutie, Centro-matic, and more recently, bands like the Water Liars, Wiretree, and The Head and the Heart influence me musically. But I’m probably influenced by musicians from other genres as well, just through listening to them for so many hours. Artists like Coltrane, Miles Davis, and Jaco Pastorius to David Rawlings, Gillian Welch, and Townes Van Zandt. This is a bit of a stretch, but I am also a painter, and I suspect that my favorite painters have influenced my songwriting in some ways (Pollock, De Kooning, Klee, Miro, Joan Mitchell). When we give ourselves over to the creative process, who knows what influences us from our memories and experiences? When you’ve spent hours listening to a Miles Davis record, even if you don’t play jazz, how can that experience not influence you in some way?

Lyrically, it is important to me to write from a place of integrity. Of honesty. For me, that means avoiding the clichés that we so often see. I mean, how many times can you use rhymes such as senoritas and margaritas? I’m not really knocking that sort of thing. I’m just saying it isn’t me. I prefer to write from my own actual experience and my own actual memories. So, a lot of what I write about is family and friends. The actual, real experiences that I have had with the actual people who I love and who love me. The deep moments (such as my parents’ deaths) and the more mundane moments that somehow become strong memories.

·        What is your songwriting process like?

Wordsworth said “Poetry is the spontaneous overflow of powerful feelings: it takes its origin from emotion recollected in tranquility.” That feels pretty right for me. Because I do prefer to write from my own experience, that means drawing heavily on my memories. But we know our memory isn’t particularly reliable. That in itself is really fascinating to me. So, for example, one of the songs on the new record – “Occurs to Me” – involves memories of me being a kid in Leavenworth, Kansas. The chorus of that song goes “If memory serves me / unfaithful servant /  whatever occurs to me /  is all I can see.” Or another lyric of mine asks “Is it memory / or must’ve been?”

What I’m getting at is that I sometimes take the consciously postmodern approach of writing about something in the past while simultaneously writing about the process of remembering. There is no doubt that, to some extent, we construct what happened in the past. Of course, the older I get, the more I think we actually construct the present as well, but that’s another kettle of fish.

Anyway, the practical process of my songwriting process varies. Sometimes I have a chord progression that I’ve found and I work it and work it until a melody starts showing itself. Sometimes the melody comes first. I have even written songs in my sleep! I have literally woke up with a tune in my head, and sometimes even lyrics to go with that melody, and my job is to write down or record that gift before it slips away. But all the songs develop as you play them over and over again. It almost feels like what I’ve heard sculptors say, that they scrap away what doesn’t belong in order to find the figure that is trapped within the medium. Sometimes it feels that way. As if I am not just making up the song, but rather discovering it, learning it, finding it.

·        If you were to tell a new listener about the new record, how would you describe it?

Well, I’m pretty biased, but I think it is a really good record! One thing that would become obvious immediately to a listener is the variety. We certainly have our own sound, but one characteristic of that sound IS variety. Much of what we do I suppose you could call Alt Folk Rock. But that label doesn’t really get it. In fact, some of the songs are a little bit country, some rock pretty hard, and some have a more poppy feel. One song, the closer on the record (Hibernation) has a sort’ve Wilco-esque Kraut rock foundation, with an extended swirling guitar solo around it. So yeah, a lot of variety.

Lyrically it varies as well. We range from lighter, poppy moments to heavy reflections of the past. Even a few fun, silly moments, such as our song “Birds of North America,” which is basically an extended litany of bird names and things associates with birds. But then another more serious song, “Ridgelines (too many),” imagines a Confederate soldier walking home from the Civil War, and the song is delivered from his point of view. So again, a lot of variety. And we’re very proud of this variety, and we think people will dig it.

·        What are you most excited/nervous about the release of your first album and playing at the Stafford?

No, not nervous. But very excited. When you launch something like this into the world, there is always that anticipation of what people will make of it. But I mainly feel like this CD and show is the culmination of many years of songwriting, performing, playing in bands… it’s kind of a big deal for us, and we’re thrilled that it is at the Stafford, our favorite (and the best) venue in town. But we’re also already looking forward to the next record. It’s interesting how much you learn about your bandmates (and yourself) making a record. When you finish, it’s not that you wish you could go back and rerecord things now that you have a better feel for each other and the songs, but you do very quickly start looking forward to the next one. And we have 5 or 6 songs pretty much ready to record, and 4 or 5 more that we will complete soon. So, as much as this is a wonderful moment that we will enjoy and cherish, on “Monday morning” we’ll keep pressing forward. I love the process of creating. I love the process of collaborating what I’ve created to make it better. And I love performing. So we look forward to more of that after this first record. It’s just the beginning…

 


Come Check out John and the rest of the guys in Leavenworth on September 24th at the Stafford, as they mark the release of their new debut album “All Despite Biology”. Special guest appearance by Adam Mikeal of the Brazos Symphony, who will join Leavenworth on one of their songs. Openers for the show are Americana artists Ben Ballinger and Chris Longoria Gonzales. Doors open at 7pm with music starting at 8pm. Tickets are $5 at the door or online in advance.

 

A Night of Music with Sean McConnell and Ryan Scott Travis

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Sean McConnell, a distinctive songwriter who has honed his craft, is an artist on the verge of a mainstream breakthrough. Coming as no surprise to his devoted fans, his recently released self titled album has him primed for the big leagues. The album is chock-full of grass-root, vividly written, and effortlessly catchy songs that are sure to get the audience dancing and singing along.

His love for music and songwriting comes from his parents who have been his musical influences for as long as he can remember. His mom was a singer and his dad was a guitar player and songwriter. They would play in coffeehouses and bring him along with them. By the age of ten he had picked up the guitar and began writing his own songs.

He released his first album “Faces” in the 2000, when he was just 15 years old. Since, he has released over 5 other albums and EPs that have garnered him the devoted fan base he has now. His latest release of his self titled album, has a different feel to it though. It’s a record full of personal stories that are honest and understated in writing.

I really like how distinct Sean McConnell is as an artist. He has his own unique sound and style of writing that is really hard to come by these days. After listening to a few of his songs, I felt like I knew him personally, which speaks to how genuine and honest he is with his songwriting. Songs such as “Holy Days” and “Bottom of the Sea”, which both have attention grabbing opening verses that have a very anthem like sound, are definitely some of my favorites and he has made a fan out of me.


 

Ryan Scott Raw 4

Joining Sean McConnell on September 16th, will be Country-Americana artist, Ryan Scott Travis. Fresh off the release of his debut album “The Guadalupe Breakdown” back in December of 2015, Travis is drawing comparisons to artists like the Eagles and Guy Clark.

Rearing from the Texas Hill Country, Travis has a timeless sound and a unique take on vintage country that is sure to have you tapping your feet along in approval.


 

You can see these two up-and-coming artists live at the Grand Stafford Theater on September 16th. Doors open at 7:00pm and the show starts at 8:00pm. Get your tickets now here for only $12 or $15 at the door.