The lights dimmed, a fog machine began to activate and T-Pain’s “Booty Wurk” blasted through the speakers as band members Judah Akers, lead vocals and guitar; Brian Macdonald, mandolin; Nate Zuercher, banjo, and Spencer Cross, drums, entered the stage.
Fans jammed out to the rock infused twang of a banjo and the strumming of a mandolin when Judah & the Lion, a genre-bending band that combines elements of folk, hip hop, rock ‘n’ roll and pop music, brought their Going to Mars Tour to downtown Opelika Thursday night.
The event was held in front of John Emerald Distillery and Red Clay Brewery and hosted by Cottonseed Studios, an Opelika based recording company and arts venue.
The crowd roared, the lights brightened and the stage’s LED screens flashed neon designs when Judah & the Lion kicked off the show with “Twenty-Somethings,” the most popular track off their debut full-length studio album, “Kids These Day.”
The band performed some of their most well-known songs during their hour and a half long performance, including “Suit And Jacket,” “Stockholm” and “Going to Mars.” The most well-received song of the night was their Billboard chart-topping single “Take it All Back,” which sparked a concert-wide dance party that ended in fans chanting for an encore.
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As the instruments played the band’s unique folk rock sound, Akers showed off his dance moves, sang and engaged with the crowd.
The show was filled with many surprises, including a fan proposing to his girlfriend on stage. Akers brought up the couple, whom he encountered at the band’s meet-and-greet earlier that day, when the fan got down on one knee and asked her to marry him. She said yes, and the crowd erupted in cheers.
Not only did fans get a spectacle of a show, they also received some powerful words of encouragement from Akers.
“Everybody in here has got a different story, different sets of struggles and pain,” Akers said. “The beautiful thing about music and concerts is that tonight, at least for us, it feels like we’re all in this together. We want you to know that no matter what you’re walking in here with, when you walk out those doors, you can do whatever the hell you want with your life.”
According to Akers, the Opelika show was one of the most enthusiastic yet. He even yelled out a “War Eagle” to express his excitement.
“I feel like as a band we’ve really grown up in this state," Akers said. "One of our first shows ever outside of Nashville was in Birmingham. We got asked recently ‘How come you’re doing so many Alabama shows on this tour?’ and we said, ‘Well we just love doing shows in Alabama.'”
Before the show, fans were lined up along the road eagerly waiting to get inside as they heard the band doing their sound check. When the venue’s doors opened at 7 p.m., the area in front of the outdoor stage quickly flooded with people.
The show began at 8 p.m. with the first opening act, Tyson Motsenbocker. Hailing from San Diego, Motsenbocker started the night with a soft, mellow tone. He performed two songs and a spoken word piece.
The band’s second opener, Billy Raffoul, followed shortly after. He entered in with a bang as the "Mighty Mouse" theme song played and strobe lights flashed. He then transitioned into his own original music, a soulful rock ‘n’ roll song. Raffoul and his band quickly became a hit with attendees.
“They were great, and they had an awesome '90s sound to them,” said concertgoer Alex Lovkotky. “It just fit in really well with the whole show.”
As the show came to a close, fans had overwhelmingly positive things to say.
“It was amazing and way better than anything on the radio,” said Sara Grace Todd, a fan of Judah & the Lion. “This was my first time seeing them in concert. They’re even better live.”