When Judah and the Lion formed at Belmont over four years ago, they never dreamed they would one day headline the famed Ryman Auditorium.
But Friday night they’ll get their shot.
“It feels amazing to be back,” said Judah and the Lion’s drummer, Spencer Cross. “We’ve been dreaming about playing the Ryman, and we’ve opened for a couple people there. But when we found out we were really going to get to play it, it was unreal.”
Kicking off the “Going to Mars” tour in Nashville is particularly special for Judah and the Lion, as the opener for Saturday’s show will be fellow Belmont alumni band and 2017 Battle of the Belmont Bands headliners, The Lonely Biscuits.
“The Lonely Biscuits formed the same year I got to Belmont, and I remember hearing about them and hearing their first stuff — it was really exciting,” said Cross. “So it’s so cool to be in the position now where we’re both getting to play the Ryman. They’re just the best guys, so we’re so happy to have them with us.”
Like The Lonely Biscuits, Judah and the Lion has come a long way since meeting at Belmont.
“It’s kind of a pretty quintessential Belmont love story,” said Cross. “Brian, Nate and Judah kind of first formed the band. They were just friends of friends but Judah had a couple songs that he wanted to hear with some different folk instruments on them. The first time they jammed together, was actually in the Belmont Bell Tower. That was when they thought ‘wow, this could really be something.’”
After playing around campus, Cross joined the band for its winning 2012 Christian Showcase performance, which led Judah and the Lion to perform at the Best of the Best Showcase later that year.
“Those were really big moments for us, to be able to get a taste of playing on that kind of level. I feel like it really helped propel us into where we are now,” said Cross.
While the band’s start was in Christian music, it has since become known for its genre-bending style, as exemplified on its newest album “Folk Hop ‘n Roll.” The innovative album combines Judah and the Lion’s classic folk instrumentation with electronic sounds and hip-hop beats.
“When we first started, obviously the mandolin and banjo were kind of a signature part of what makes us us,” said Cross. “It kind of felt like, ‘OK, this is what you do when you have a banjo, this is the kind of music you play.’ So it was really fun, but then as we kind of got to know each other and got to know ourselves better, we realized that we had all these different influences and liked all these different kinds of music, and we didn’t want to inhibit ourselves from being able to create anything.”
This shift is at the forefront on their newest album “Folk Hop ‘n Roll.” The innovative album combines Judah and the Lion’s classic folk instrumentation with electronic sounds and hip-hop beats.
“Going into ‘Folk Hop N’ Roll,’ we really wanted to push down any walls creatively and leave ourselves completely open,” said Cross. “It definitely was shocking to some people that were big fans of us before that album, but I think it was a really crucial growing step for us to be able to kind of feel like we could do whatever we wanted.”
The band is looking forward to getting to showcase the album as its “Going to Mars” tour kicks off Friday night.
“It’s been so cool to play these songs live, I feel like that’s when songs really come to life,” said Cross. “You can record a song, but once you play it live — play it in front of people and see their reactions to it — you kind of form your own relationship with it.
One such song is “Take It All Back.”
“I remember my favorite song ‘Take it All Back’ — when we recorded that, I had a certain relationship to that song but it’s just become so popular amongst our fans that it had this whole new meaning to me and I have this whole new relationship with it. It’s so cool to see how even music that you made can just completely change its identity in a way. It’s just a really cool to see how the fans take it to heart and we love playing live so we’re excited for this upcoming tour.”
After finishing up their headline tour, Judah and the Lion will head to Europe in October to tour with Icelandic band, Kaleo, who will be playing the Ryman themselves later this month. The band also currently has new music in the works.
“We’re going to be doing some more shows next spring, and then we’ll probably start writing for a new album before too long,” said Cross. “We’ve already kind of started jamming with some stuff, but yeah, we have a crazy busy year, and we’re looking forward to that and all that comes along with it.”
For now, Cross simply hopes fans come to the show ready for a night of fun.
“They should just be ready to bring their dancing shoes and to get ready to have a good time.”
Photo credit: Sully Sullivan