By GUY D’ASTOLFO
Booking the rock band Judah and the Lion to headline this year’s Federal Frenzy was a nice get for Penguin Promotions, which stages the downtown festival.
The rising Nashville-based band – whose single “Take It All Back” can be heard on a lot of rock sources – is in demand. The quartet has an incredibly busy summer schedule, with appearances at major rock festivals, including Firefly in Delaware (June 15-18) and Forecastle in Kentucky (July 14-16). The band toured with Twenty One Pilots earlier this year and will tour with Incubus later this summer.
Getting Judah and the Lion right now is perfect timing, although Penguin Productions – a student outfit at Youngstown State University – began pursuing the act eight months ago.
Penguin couldn’t get the deal done for September’s Fall Fire Festival at YSU, but the delay meant things worked out even better, as the act’s popularity has risen immensely since then.
Carolyn Jesko, assistant student programming director at YSU, said Penguin tries to book bands at just the right stage of their development, when they are affordable.
“We try to be strategic with it,” she said. “We have a limited budget, so we try to maximize it by catching a band before they burst on the scene and are still in our price range, and hope that by the time they get here more people know about them.”
Judah and the Lion will play the main stage, outdoors, from 9:30 to 11 p.m.
Welshly Arms, a similarly rising hard-rock band out of Cleveland, will precede them at 8 p.m. “They have a top five song in Germany,” said Jesko. Welshly Arms will be heading to Europe in May for a string of shows.
With a lively Americana sound characterized by a banjo and mandolin, Judah and the Lion has combined the disparate musical styles favored by its members.
The members of the quartet – front man Judah Akers, drummer Spencer Cross, mandolin player Brian Macdonald and banjoist Nate Zuercher – arrived in Nashville from different regions of the country and formed a band that combines those backgrounds.
The strings of folk, a hip-hop beat, rock energy and power pop punch are hallmarks of the act. The title of its acclaimed second album, “Folk Hop N Roll,” released last year, alludes to the musical mishmash it contains.
“There’s no boundaries,” said Akers, in comments released by the band. “We wanted to make something raw, something with attitude. We all grew up loving these hip-hop beats, so why not make an album that has the grit of Run DMC or Beastie Boys, along with all the folk instruments that we play?”
The band made its debut with “Kids These Days,” released in 2014, which hit No. 4 on the Billboard folk chart.
Judah and the Lion is used to heavy touring; the act played 150 shows in 2015 alone. Spurred by the new album, that pace is continuing.
“This record was made for the live show,” said Akers. “Our shows are all about the experience we share with our fans. We know that people work everyday jobs or go to school, and they’re dealing with life, and yet they’re still choosing to spend the night with us. We don’t take that lightly. We give them an experience. We throw an absolute rage. And all the songs were made with that in mind.”
Federal Frenzy will be centered around the downtown intersection of West Federal and Phelps street, which will be closed to traffic for a block in every direction. The main outdoor stage will be set up on West Federal between Phelps and Wick, and the smaller 330 Stage, sponsored by The Summit-FM 90.7, will be set up in the water department parking lot.
There also will be vendors, food trucks, art, a beer tent and an eating area outdoors.
Live music by a dozen bands whose members are associated with YSU also will take place from 2 to 8 p.m. inside three bars in the festival area: O’Donold’s, The Federal and Suzie’s Dogs and Drafts.
Admission to the festival and the bars is free.