Judah and The Lion hailed their Knoxville show as a homecoming.
The band, who have been labeled everywhere as folk to Americana to bluegrass to rock to hip hop, performed the first of two shows Thursday night at 8 p.m. at the Mill & Mine.
The sold-out show had already gained a decent crowd when I arrived around ten minutes after the door had opened. The casual atmosphere of the Mill & Mine made the room feel more like a social gathering than a venue awaiting a concert.
The lights darkened and electrofolk duo Tall Heights took the stage. The band is opening for the Going to Mars tour, alongside indie rock quartet Colony House.
Although the crowd was anticipation for the following bands, Tall Heights completely quieted the crowd with an emotional performance of their song "Spirit Cold." The main vocalist played a cello as they performed their brief set, which had both folk and electronic standout moments.
Colony House, who have previously toured with bands including Needtobreathe and Switchfoot, took the stage next. The band considers their genre to be stripped down rock n’ roll, relying on their powerful vocals and instrumental numbers to bring energy to the stage.
After performing a few of their known hits, the band previewed some new musical numbers. The lead vocalist Caleb Chapman asked to crowd to pretend it was a well known, favorite song from their favorite band and to sing and dance along to the brand new song.
“Pretend we’re Judah and the Lion for like three-and-a-half minutes,” Chapman said.
Colony House finished off their set with more of their hits, including “Falling Slowly” and “Lonely.” To end, the band sang their song “Moving Forward,” and the band abandoned their instruments and joined arms together on stage to sing together before thanking the crowd and exiting.
Following a brief intermission, purple lights flashed the stage and videos of the historic Space Race were previewed on the screen to bring tribute to the space theme of Judah and the Lion’s most recent album “Folk Hop n' Roll” and single “Going to Mars.”
Judah and the Lion have a robust and dynamic stage presence, which was evident from the moment the concert began. They evidently have lots of fun performing, and engage the audience from the moment the show begins.
Following a performance of their song “Twenty Somethings,” lead vocalist and guitarist
Judah Akers told the audience that although he is from Cookeville, Tennessee, and now lives in Nashville, coming to Knoxville feels like coming home.
Akers, alongside the two other members Brian Macdonald and Nate Zuercher, have been performing in Knoxville since the very beginning of their career. One of their very first shows was at Remedy Coffee House at its old location on Jackson Avenue in the Old City.
“We feel like we grew up here,” Akers said. “We sold our shows before anybody knew who we were. Thanks for being a part of our story.”
For the remainder of the evening, the band constantly reminded the audience that they wanted them to feel like family and dance as if they were dancing in a room full of close friends.
“We’re all family, there’s no you, no us, there’s all of us … we sing the songs, you sing them back,” Akers said, between songs.
Colony House joined the stage with Judah and the Lion for a performance of “Mr. Brightside” by The Killers that the crowd got extremely into, singing along to every lyric.
After playing a few of the band’s older, folk pieces, Akers talked to the audience and asked them to play aside any insecurities, fears or doubts that they had brought into the door that night. The talk introduced the band’s newest single “Going to Mars.”
“We can do anything, we’re going to Mars,” Akers sang.
After Akers got in the middle of the audience, he returned to stage and said he firmly believed in finishing every set strong. Following playing the opening notes of “The Circle of Life” from The Lion King, the band played their hit, “Take it All Back.” At the end of their song and leaving the stage, the band told the audience that they finish every performance with a two minute dance party.
For the encore, Judah and the Lion played their song, “Sweet Tennessee.” He told the audience about his love for the state. As the lights turned orange and white, the band played “Rocky Top.” As the crowd cheered, Akers—who was wearing a Tennessee football jersey—claimed that he was a “loyal Tennessee fan” and restated that coming to Knoxville felt like coming home for the band.
The band was then joined by both Tall Heights and Colony House and joined arms to sing “Lean on Me.” The crowd also joined arms and swayed for a moment of unity that the band had encouraged since the start.
Before they sang their last song, Akers asked the audience to remember three rules as they left The Mill & Mine in the following minutes.
“Eat more chocolate. Be kind to people. Listen to more Judah and the Lion,” Akers said.