An Ode to The Lone Bellow

The weekend after I started my senior year of college, I had the worst hangover of my life.

For about 12 hours, I was glued to my bed, not moving my head an inch, because if I did, the nausea returned. Every 20 minutes, however, I’d be up and sprinting to the bathroom, puking my guts out even when I had no guts left. The experience was akin to having altitude sickness when I went to Breckenridge several years earlier. During senior year I lived in a house with three other roommates, and I can safely say that none of them used the upstairs bathroom that day.

Only two things kept me sane throughout that hellish day. One was that I had just discovered BoJack Horseman. The first season was recently uploaded, so I turned to the sanctuary of comedy. The first three episodes were pretty mediocre, but I needed something to focus on and I watched the whole season. Unknowably, this sparked a passionate fandom, and today I consider it one of my favorite shows of all time.

The second thing was listening to The National. Hearing the song “England” was a near Pavlovian experience. At that point in the day, I resorted to lying on the floor near the door since I couldn’t make it to the bed. Weeping, I put in my headphones and started the track, my breathing instantly becoming slower. I loosened my grip in my clenched hands. The tears fell silently, rolling down my still face. After the song was over, I sat up and at least made it back to bed.

This was nearly four years ago at this point. I have only been listening to The Lone Bellow since the end of this previous December, but the memory of that cursed hangover worms its way back into my mind when I put on “Then Came The Morning” by The Lone Bellow.

I discovered that song and the band for myself on Christmas Day, actually. It happened to play on my dad’s Pandora and I stopped what I was doing (drinking eggnog, probably) and looked up what it was.

I’m most familiar with the album of the same name, although I am fond of their most latest album. Whenever I listen to the song “Then Came The Morning”, it feels like an anthem for perseverance. It’s a calling to know that daylight will break, literally or metaphorically. The worst will pass at some point.

I started to utilize the song the same way I had done with “England” on my dreadful hangover day, listening to the lyrics like a mantra: “Then came the morning/ it was bright, like a light that you kept from your smile.”

The rest of the album was like home for me. It reminded me of bands I used to discover through Chicago’s progressive rock (and my favorite) radio station, 93XRT. The Lone Bellow resides on those airwaves. I can feel it.

I’ve always been a sucker for the choral sound with multiple singers belting. That sound of musicians putting their very souls into the creation of their music. The instrumentals are phenomenal but not always necessary, and their use of a cappella gives me goosebumps.

The album also had a relaxing lull to it, and because of this, I began to use it as a lullaby. Ever since I was little, if I had trouble sleeping, Mom would put on one of my favorite lullaby kid’s albums. I could sense every part of the album, even though I couldn’t tell you the song names or even the lyrics. But the way the song sounded was enough to calm me down into slumber.

This trick has worked for several other albums as well, including Jamie Cullum’s Twentysomething and The National’s High Violet. And now Then Came The Morning.

If whatever situation I was worried about seemed dire to my anxiety-riddled mind, I’d put that first track on and breathe. Then came the morning. Things will get better.

Sometimes I literally used it with the intention of wishing for the morning. Every now and then a bout of insomnia hits me, and I’ll put the song on, wishing for sleep. Wishing for the morning. Calming down because, yes, I will sleep and yes, morning will come.

A few months into my worship of the album, I noticed they were coming to the Town Hall in New York.

Perfect, my dad would love this band. My dad, the XRT connoisseur. My dad, one of my initial guides into the world of music. Now I could show him a band that I love and return the favor.

We didn’t realize this until we got there, but the Town Hall has a special history lending to a form of individuality in the New York venue space. Notable, famous acts had gone through there, like Charlie Parker and Louis Armstrong. The venue itself made me feel like I was about to see a play, not a folk rock band.

The Lone Bellow did not disappoint at all. The ensemble was enthusiastic, energetic, and sharp with their musicianship. My dad and I were in the mezzanine as we watched the super fans belt every word to each song in the front rows.

We leaned close to the stage, watching the singers pour their words into the microphones. I was thrilled that they sounded just as good live.

Then, as if it was a play, there was intermission. After that, the three core singers came out and performed 45 minutes of an acoustic set with one microphone. I wept, star-struck and mouth agape as I forgot to breathe. The sound was healing. The sound was from the core of their being. Magic happened.

They didn’t play “Then Came The Morning” until the very last song, after their two encores. By this point I felt like I was anew in spirit, my mind quieted from worry.

“Can you feel the spirit?” one of the singers asked, as if he read my mind. The crowd roared, and I felt home in this congregation of music lovers. They began to play the song and I beamed, proud that I shared this experience with my dad.

We left and I knew I had seen one of my favorite shows of the year, despite it being the end of March.

Now when I put the album on as my lullaby, I not only feel the sense of relaxation. I can see the stage in my mind, the band playing their hearts out and the crowd giving their own hearts to them. I can go deeper than feeling calm. I can feel peace.

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