Growing up on the west side of Colorado Springs, Nate Zuercher loved attending concerts at Red Rocks Amphitheater in Morrison, Colo. “He would line up early so he could get in the front row to watch the bands,” said his father, Rockrimmon resident David Zuercher. Nate was passionate about music as a teen. “He practiced his guitar all the time; he would not put it down,” David continued. “Nate said he dreamed of playing at Red Rocks someday. I thought he had real talent, and told him I believed it wasn’t a matter of if he’d play there, but when.”
Nate’s dream is about to come true: the skilled banjo player will perform at Red Rocks with his wildly successful band, Judah & the Lion, at 7 p.m. on Aug. 13. “It’s unbelievable,” said Nate. “I’ve been shooting for this since I was 12; I never thought it would actually happen. I’m super excited and so grateful.”
Judah & the Lion is an alternative band with a truly unique sound. The trio — Judah Akers, Brian Macdonald and Nate — blend traditional rock-an- roll sounds with folk instruments like banjo and mandolin. The group opened for the band Twenty One Pilots on tour in 2017 and their popularity has been exploding ever since.
Nate believes Judah & the Lion is connecting with its audiences in large part because of the band’s vulnerability. “We try to offer a message of general positivity, but also try not to come off like everything is fine, like we’ve got life all figured out. Everyone is struggling, trying to figure it out. We want to offer hope in the midst of the chaos and crazy. We want to encourage people to be be real with each other; we can’t do (life) alone,” he said.
The band’s latest album, Pep Talks, was released on May 3, debuting at No. 18 on the Billboard Top 200 chart. The album chronicles Akers’ processing of his parents’ recent divorce. “It was very difficult for him,” said Nate. “There’s a darker edge to much of the album, but also a lot of goodness, and a real fight for hope and truth. I’m very, very proud of the record.”
Whereas Judah & the Lion’s previous albums were each recorded in only two weeks, Pep Talks was recorded over the span of four months. “We had lots of time in the studio, a lot of space and freedom to create and explore. We were able to slow down and design the new record, figure out what we wanted to say. Pep Talks still has the Judah & the Lion sound, but each of us got the chance to innovate,” Nate said.
That extra recording time allowed the band to include guest artists on the album, including Grammy winner Kacey Musgraves and Nate’s father, David, a professional trumpet player in the Colorado Springs Philharmonic. “The band invited me to Nashville to record parts for four of the tracks. Brian, the mandolin player, orchestrated it; the trumpet just adds some color to the tracks. It was such a thrill,” David said.
Nate’s mother, Kelly Zuercher, a professional pianist, also with the Philharmonic, appears in the band’s video for the song “Don’t Mess with My Mama,” along with the other band members’ mothers. “The video is really silly,” said Kelly. “I didn’t know what to expect, but the whole thing was a lot of fun,” she said of the 12-hour video shoot in Nashville.
Kelly and David are enormously proud of Nate and the band. “Things have really exploded for them in the last few years,” said Kelly. “It’s hard to wrap my head around the fact that their success has just skyrocketed. David and I try to go see them in concert as often as we can. Nate is really handling the success very well. He said he’s working on trying to handle their busy schedule better, balance it with downtime. He really just takes it all in stride.”
David will join Nate and the band onstage at Red Rocks in August. “I’ve actually played there before, as a sub with the Colorado Symphony,” said David. “I always held it over Nate’s head, saying ‘When are you going to play there?’” he laughed. “Nate will have a blast (playing at Red Rocks). Judah & the Lion’s concerts are always a huge love fest.”
As the August Red Rocks performance inches closer, Nate finds his excitement building: “I’m trying to prepare myself for that day so I can be as present as possible. I have friends from all over coming in (for the concert),” he said.
“Finally playing at Red Rocks is a testament to everyone who has been a part of our journey: our crew, our management. It feels like this is the right time for us to play there; it is the biggest stop on our Pep Talks tour. We are headlining; we get to host our own party, speak our own message. It’s going to be a sweet, sweet day.”