High Five Squad

Words by Johanna Vann
Photos provided by Judah and the Lion

There’s nothing like a high five from a total stranger to make your day a little brighter.

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Or to inspire a popular alternative band’s innovative charity.

Judah Akers, lead singer of the Nashville-based band Judah & the Lion, was working out at his local YMCA one afternoon when a young girl with braided hair walked by him, threw up her hand, and gave him an enthusiastic high five. While words were not exchanged, it was all Judah needed for his day to turn around. Recalling that unforgettable high-five moment, Judah says, “I don’t care who you are. You might be a stranger, but you’re acknowledging me. She gave me love. I received it, but I also gave it back to her; in that moment we were humans together.”

The latest craze for artists in Honky Tonk Central is naming a restaurant after themselves. But not for Judah, Brian Macdonald, and Nate Zuercher.  They’re focused on bringing more meaning to their travel.

From the band’s formation, Judah, Brian, and Nate have been intentional about using a portion of their time on the road to serve the communities they’re visiting. That has meant everything from playing music to children at a St. Jude’s hospital to serving meals at a local food bank. “On the road, life can feel so mechanical. You get into this rhythm: promo, soundcheck, play a show. It comes with a certain level of fantasy. So getting to go to a special needs class to play music and putting a smile on their faces brings you back down to earth. We always get more out of it than we feel anyone else does.”

However, the band wanted to be even more intentional about serving others on the road. They wanted to encourage the expression of kindness to everyone, to remind every person from every walk of life that he is worthy of love, that she is worthy of giving love to others. Judah dreamed about “seeing love in the physical.” He got fired up when he thought about his band, the fans, and organizations teaming up to improve communities by coming together in love. Judah also envisioned what this movement might look like if they could inspire other bands to do the same. “I would love to see other bands attach themselves to this mission because I know there are so many bands that travel that also have a heart to serve,” he said.

And so High Five Squad was launched.

Instead of merely serving when they can while in a city, now they carefully research charities, contact particular ones, and set up opportunities to serve before arriving. Partnering with local organizations with solid reputations that are already doing good work in the community has become a part of their normal tour schedule.

Judah, Brian, and Nate each feel a strong calling to serve in different ways. High Five Squad allows each of the band members to pursue their individual passions to serve. Being able to lean into a different cause or community of people in each city they travel to gives the band the opportunity to be inclusive of each band member’s calling.

High Five Squad also creates a way for fans to get involved as well. The band members hope that introducing their fans to these organizations will create new advocates for these charities even after the band has left the city.

Performing on a stage in front of hundreds of people can easily become an ego trip. That’s why Judah & the Lion hope to create a healthier road experience where the focus is put on someone else. Whether it’s a portion of ticket sales, sponsored merchandise, donations that come through their site, or another creative way, High Five Squad is a simple access point to offer generosity and love.

They’ve spent more than eight months hard at work on their latest album, Pep Talks—longer than they’ve ever spent on a record before. But they’re most eager to release the 17-song album to the world alongside the official launch of High Five Squad.