"Playing" with The Walking Roots Band

“Playing” with The Walking Roots

~ing podcast Season 2 Episode 23
Full Episode Transcript

Season 2 Episode 23: “Playing”, with The Walking Roots was released on June 7, 2022. The audio recording is available on all major podcasting platforms. More information is available here.

Episode Description:

Today’s episode is a musical journey, exploring the music of The Walking Roots Band! ~ing producer Ben Wideman is joined again by Greg Yoder and Seth Crissman, who joined us several weeks ago when we discussed The Soil and the Seed Project. This time they are back to discuss their ongoing music project, The Walking Roots Band, an acoustic, Americana, folksy, blue-ish-grassy, roots music group based in Harrisonburg, Virginia. We’ll explore themes around theology, church, community, and music.

Greg Yoder, Seth Crissman, Walking Roots Music, Dennis Edwards, Ben Wideman

Ben Wideman  00:00
Welcome to Season Two of ~ing Podcast, a production of MennoMedia’s Leader Magazine.

Walking Roots Music  00:16
(Music playing)

Ben Wideman  00:27
What does it mean to authentically follow Jesus? Each week ~ing Podcast invites you to join us on a journey. Join us as we talk with people of faith who are creatively thinking, growing, and being… people who are reimagining and exploring what it means to enrich faith in a complex world. Our conversation begins now. Join us as we journey together.  Friends, welcome back to ~ing Podcast. I’m really excited today to be sitting down with two people from The Walking Roots Band. This is a band that I personally have enjoyed a number of times… Friends, essentially from your college years who got together and created something really special that has continued on for a number of years, a number of album projects, and a number of other things too. I’m really excited to have Greg and Seth here with me today. Fellas, would you please introduce yourselves to those who may not know you?

Greg Yoder  01:25
I’m Greg Yoder, member of The Walking Roots Band… father of three. And looking forward to getting a new puppy in a couple of weeks.

Ben Wideman  01:36
Oh boy, that’s exciting!

Seth Crissman  01:38
Seth Chrisman… play music with the band, write music, and enjoy living in Harrisonburg, Virginia. We have four little ones and live in the northeast neighborhood of Harrisonburg and have life here.

Ben Wideman  01:50Wonderful. We’ll get to the kind of music that you play and how it all unfolds in a little bit. But I’m curious if you can talk about your origin story. How did this band come together? How did you form and how did you find each other?

Seth Crissman  02:04
Yeah, like you alluded to, Ben, we were at EMU together. Jackson Maust, Mitchell Yoder, myself, and Christina Landis at the time, who’s now married to Greg (they’re married to each other). And we started playing music together, little bits and pieces, doing stuff on campus, both in sacred spaces that EMU was trying to facilitate is leading worship and that sort of thing. As well as doing coffee houses and playing in each other’s homes. And yeah, it was a lot of fun playing other people’s music. Greg went to Goshen College and whenever he sort of moved to Harrisonburg and they moved to Harrisonburg, we started writing our own music and playing a lot more together… things that we had written ourselves, and Greg kind of sparked that journey. And so for the last 10 years that we’ve played music, with Greg… 12 years, maybe. It’s been the game changer. So yeah, it’s a lot of fun.

Ben Wideman  03:06
What is the total number of members of the band at this point? I know you’ve had a couple of different iterations and people in and out. How many people have been a part of The Walking Roots?

Greg Yoder  03:17
We have seven members currently and there are two people who are have been part of the band and no longer are if you go back before it was The Walking Roots Band. The group that became The Walking Roots Band had another handful of people that have been in, but yeah, it’s it’s it’s a loose affiliation, although not that loose.

Ben Wideman  03:44
Your website describes your genre as acoustic Americana folksy blueish grassy roots music, and I’m curious. I think that’s an accurate description, having heard you a few times. But is it… Is it really that you’re just drawn to lots of different styles of music? And this is sort of the end result? What comes out? Or, or were you specifically influenced by certain genres and strive to be in that in that space? How do you describe the way you sound?

Seth Crissman  04:13
Yeah, how do you describe art, you know? Really, like… I, yeah, it’s tricky. I, I feel like we found like a corner… a niche voice for the way that we like to create music. We don’t always know exactly how to describe it. We definitely would have different influences, musically, but I think just sort of like yeah, working together. We’re it’s a real collaborative effort, both not just in performing and when we’re hauling our instruments and gear across, across our region to play music. But for songwriting, for arranging we work really collaboratively and so different points when different writers from within the band write music, it has a different band and feel and so yeah, for Americana, like we use these words all the time, they catch pretty broadly depending on who you’re talking to. So, yeah, we’re somewhere in there. I guess. I don’t know if that answered the question or not… Greg?

Greg Yoder  05:12
I don’t either. It’s a difficult question to answer, I would say that we have the instruments that we have, and we use them to make the music that we make, and then we struggled to put labels on it. And that’s the best that we’ve been able to do. Or we did that at one point and we just stuck with it. In terms of describing the music.

Seth Crissman  05:37
When you don’t know how to describe something just say something silly.

Greg Yoder  05:40

Yeah, exactly.

Seth Crissman  05:41
Like hopefully that resolves this… winsome.

Walking Roots Music  06:07
(Music plays)

Ben Wideman  06:30
I’m really fascinated by your relationship to faith. You’ve chosen intentionally at times to focus on music from the church. But you’re not sort of exclusively that either. Can you talk about that journey, that that intentionality to, to draw parts of your faith to to what you’re creating?

Seth Crissman  06:52
We create from our lives, like we write, we create music from the whole tapestry of our life. And faith is an important part of our life. And so of course, some of the music that we write, like connects closely with what it means to follow Jesus sort of within for us, for us, it’s within this Anabaptist tradition within the Mennonite church, but that’s that’s it’s part of it. It’s part of our you know, Greg, Greg was farming for a while and we wrote a lot of farming songs and a lot of our bandmates grew up on farms, and we wrote songs about the land and about seed and about what it means to hope, like farmers so often do, and, yeah, I mean, as our lives change are the songs that we write change. And so I think I don’t think I could, I don’t think we could write music that never connects with our faith, but I think it would be, it’d be really strange to only write music just about our faith for us, because we write about our whole lives in there. It’s, it’s connected together.

Greg Yoder  07:54
I think that we’ve always really valued the ability to be in spaces that our faith spaces, and, and share music that’s not explicitly faith, music, but is informed and infused with our experience of faith in community, and also be in spaces that are not faith spaces, and to share music that is explicitly faith based and informed. And to be able to sort of represent that whole life. Yeah, the music in the art is a reflection of our whole lives and faith is not a cordoned off part of our lives, but it’s, it’s integral, it’s interwoven and the other parts of our lives inform our experience of faith and and are part of our you know, faith community.

Ben Wideman  08:57
I like that… sort of, you know, it’s all a kaleidoscope I guess, of things coming together and you’re, you’re just sort of being authentic and honest about where you are in the world when you draw these different aspects whether it’s farming or faith or you know, wherever you’re you you you wind up. You, there’s a lot of Shenandoah Valley themes running through your music as well, right? It’s It’s hard not to, when you live in a place like that, to look out the window and be inspired and and want to reflect on where you find yourself. There’s some intentionality to that relationship may be a coupling at times. So thinking about Shelter: A Hymn Reclamation Project where you were sort of more intentionally drawing on songs from the traditions you’ve grown up in, trying to reinvent them in some ways. And I think you’ve even worked closely with Eastern Mennonite Seminary at times to to be creating sort of alongside the church. Is that is that fair to say?

Seth Crissman  09:52
Yeah, I when I was at EMS, we were… one of the disciplines that I was encouraged to engage in was praying through music and so it seemed really natural. We had a collection of prayers that we had composed, and we were looking for a sponsor to help do a little bit of EMU time, this is seven years, eight years ago. And so, and they were, they were obviously really excited about the direction of that

Walking Roots Music  10:16
(Music plays)

Seth Crissman  10:52
Rather than reinventing hymns I would… or the hymns of our childhood and youth, it’s just a recognition that songs fall in and out of favor in, in, in traditions. And so, you know, we just… MennoMedia just… we just did a new hymnal, you know, and there’s some songs that that that got included and some songs that didn’t. And so recognizing that there’s value, even in the songs that whether even if they’re in the collection of the book of the book, perhaps they’re not as often used as some other songs, maybe it’s a tune that was written, maybe it was a tune that was written 100 years after the words, maybe it’s in lots of different reasons that songs are forgotten or sort of pushed aside. And so it was more of like a like, like a treasure hunt, of looking for songs, texts that say something profound theologically, in our moment now that maybe aren’t readily rising in people’s brains when they’re thinking about their song, experience with church music.

Greg Yoder  11:49
And also it is continues to be a spiritual discipline for us, like, connecting with these texts that have been part of faith communities for hundreds of years and have their battle tested is not the word that I want to use, but it’s that sort of thing. Like, that doesn’t really work for a Peace Church, but but it has that they’ve been, they’ve been tested on the road they have, they’ve been around for a while and, and there’s something everlasting in, in those words, and so to, to think about how to set them in a new way musically, you have to spend time with the words in a way that you might not otherwise. So we’ve we’ve set a lot of texts that we never sang in church, for, for one reason or another. But we’ve we’ve also set songs that we have sung and the texts are familiar to us, but setting them in a new way allows us to think about them in a new way into into sort of sit with the texts and go go deeper with them. And and something that Seth always says so I’ll let him actually say it has has to do with like, the way giving old words new music allows you to hear them in a fresh way.

Ben Wideman  13:21
When people ask you for a song that really summarizes who you are, what track do you point them to?

Greg Yoder  13:29
It’s a terrible question!

Seth Crissman  13:35
It’s a tricky one.

Greg Yoder  13:37
I think in this moment, I would point people to one of one of the tracks from the new album The Waves May Crash EP. I really love the text and the music that Seth wrote for a song that we call “Keep Watch,” which has been in the works for many, many years. I don’t remember the the initial idea came four or five years ago probably and we started working on it and never really finished it and then towards the beginning half is probably two or three months in to the pandemic. Yeah, May 2020 I don’t I don’t know exactly what prompted Seth to pick it up again. But he he did and and it just had a new depth of meaning and a new depth of feeling to it. And it finished itself pretty quickly. Then, and it’s been a really hopeful and powerful song for me as we’ve gone through this experience.

Walking Roots Music  14:52
(Music plays)

Greg Yoder  15:09
One of the things that I really value about the band is that it’s also in a lot of ways, our, our community, our closest and deepest community and, and we have the privilege and the opportunity to raise our kids together and, and I my kids are their faith is being formed by my friends who are deeply thoughtful and honest people in their reflections of faith. And, and so hearing my son, walking around our house singing choruses that Seth has written is a it’s a huge gift and a blessing to me.

Ben Wideman  15:50
Wow, I love that.

Seth Crissman  15:51
There’s a lot of different corners of our music that come to mind. I think, at our best, our music is honest, and speaks that song like Greg referred to speaks, like in some, some of the many of the songs it’s like, it’s like, as people were like, God liberates the people out of like enslavement, right? In Egypt? Like, the reality is just really hard. And so like, a lot like a lot of these, like, texts in Hebrew scripture, like, they don’t paint these like super rosy pictures. It’s like, here’s where we are. We’re in the wilderness. Like, may God help us because we don’t really have any other way. And there’s there’s been a lot of songs. I mean, I learned so much from songwriting about from Greg, and he has, he has a song on the new one called “Almost Out of Words Again,” which is one that I really love. That’s like been with me for a long time. He has. Yeah, I mean, there’s so many. So I think I think just just just pull one out and give it a listen and see what happens. Yeah, there’s some balance to Ben between the the, the way that the historical movement of hymnody, right, within the Christian tradition, over the last, you know, centuries and millennia, right. And the fresh catching of, of the spirits movement in our, in our communities, in our midst, in the local church, in individuals, as songwriters, and otherwise. And there’s something that whenever Yeah, we’re trying to catch up both when we do some of those reclaimed hymns, but the church needs both, we need sort of this. Anchoring to something outside of this moment, because it always feels like everything is brand new, and like it’s never been, but it’s so many things have been and so being anchored into that tradition, while also catching those fresh, you know, whispers of the spirits movement in our communities. It’s beautiful and something we were committed to. Yeah,

Ben Wideman  17:58
Yeah. It’s reminding me of the conversation that I had with a few of the folks who put together that recent Voices Together Hymnal Project who talked about their initial desire was to hear congregations report, what their “heart songs” were, I think that was the word that they used… What are the things that you, you sing and you immediately feel like you belong at a place? But what they were surprised by it was that across the denomination, there were different heart songs, depending on where they were at even in the same location, different churches across town would have different heart songs, different ways of finding comfort. And so we need that kind of tension of, of experiencing new things returning to the old and, and it strikes me as well, that music is also prophetic at times. It’s not always just a place where we find peace and comfort, but a place where we’re challenged. And I wondering if you could reflect a little bit on that. Does The Walking Roots also feel like nudging people from time to time not just singing songs that suited us but but getting us perhaps to think beyond our comfort zones?

Seth Crissman  19:03
Do we do like to nudge people? You know, we write we write we write music that comes out. And and at times those messages might might it people are in different places, just like you mentioned different communities within the same geographical area the same there. There’s very we’ve played in so many, so many Anabaptist communities in the last 10 years. I mean, I’m trying to think if there are folks in the Mennonite Church in our in our in our little sphere of the world that have been in as many churches leading worship and and looking at their hymnals for what they say in the week before and because we’ve been there in those spaces and listen to those church leaders talk about their songs and their communities. And to be honest, I think what that’s done for me is it’s given me a deep appreciation for the ways that they are trying to in genuine ways follow Jesus as a community. And and yeah, some of our music for some People will nudge them. Maybe it’s, you know, we were in a tradition where 50 years, the music that wasn’t sacred 50 years ago 60. I mean, in some of our it’s, it’s not that far away that that was pretty, pretty far off and taboo, and so…

Greg Yoder  20:13
Also instruments in church history not that long ago.

Seth Crissman  20:18

Greg Yoder  20:19
Super, super taboo.

Ben Wideman  20:21
Yeah, within my lifetime, my home congregation added a piano, like it was all all four part harmony.

Seth Crissman  20:26
So nudging is you know, we… and Ben we write, we write music that connects with the breadth of the church, like, we really do. And, and that’s something we care about is creating music for inside and outside the church. And so yeah, I think some of it will nudge folks in different directions. But we’re, we have a pretty high view of how the spirit moves and blows in that we don’t we try not to think too highly of ourselves that somehow we have, have a guess add exactly how that needs to happen, in what order and I think that’s helped us write music that’s connected broadly. And then we hear about the way that people have received that music, and it’s so different, you know, that is not at all what we were trying to do, but that’s the, I think it’s the spirits movement,

Greg Yoder  21:09
I’ve been really, really moved by the responses that we’ve gotten to music where people have told us about how meaningful something that we have written has been for them in a certain moment. And sometimes it’s the faith stuff, and sometimes it’s the other stuff and, and I think there’s the the amount of our Yeah, the amount of our lives that are infused with this like openness to to God and to the Holy Spirit and to what it means to try to follow Jesus that that stuff works its way into almost all of the music that we write in one way shape or form and, and so it’s just really neat to see how the, the that music has been just as meaningful to a lot of people as the as the music that’s more explicitly sacred and more obviously, sort of trying to worship.

Walking Roots Music  22:24
(Music plays)

Ben Wideman  22:29
There’s something wonderful and surprising. You know, I think about, you know, rapping about sweater weather. You know, that’s not something necessarily you expect, when you go to hear at Americana, or Folk band performing. But you can be surprised by the joy that you find when when that sort of thing occurs.

Greg Yoder  23:38
Yeah, I will say we haven’t gotten a whole lot of people saying that that song is particularly meaningful for them. But but people do in general generally seem to enjoy it.

Seth Crissman  23:49
I mean, there’s a wait, there’s something about also play and like, yeah, not taking yourself too seriously to the point where like, everything you create has to be so so sterilized where like it has to fit this exact. And so I think that some of those songs are just like, maybe just artifacts or examples of our commitment to like, life and living life in the full way. And yeah, yeah, people connect with all sorts of stuff, you know, so

Greg Yoder  24:21
And I do think that in, especially in a live setting, like playing together, like we’re playing with the audience, when we share the the more lighthearted and, and comical songs or moments on stage, and playing together helps us build the community that makes for those meaningful moments where we offer something of ourselves and people in the audience connect with that. So I think it is I mean, I believe in the sacredness of humor, I think that that is a definitely a gift from God and and being able to weave that into what we do, I think has allowed us to Yeah, to be in some spaces and to share music that we might not have been able to do otherwise.

Ben Wideman  25:14
So I know you’ve got something new here on the horizon, can you talk about your latest project as a as a group,

Seth Crissman  25:22
We started recording this project, like we are going into the studio right when COVID hit. And so these are songs that we have been writing for, I don’t know, a long time before that. And we were excited to share them. And, and obviously, we couldn’t, like so many other musicians, it kind of turned a lot of a lot of that side of our world upside down, as well as the rest of it. And so these are songs that we’ve been writing, and just really excited to share with the world. But we didn’t jump right to it, we kind of took a slight detour, and wrote another project called Waves May Crash that is another collection of songs that deals with a little bit of our experience over the last 24 months. And that’s already available to folks who are interested in having it.

Walking Roots Music  26:21
(Music plays)

Seth Crissman  26:31
This new project, it’s yeah, it’s it’s a feels like a deeper expression of ourselves, and maybe even some of our previous work that we’ve done. These two I’m super pumped about.

Ben Wideman  26:43
One of the really wonderful things to grow out of your work together is a music festival. I’ve never had the privilege of going but maybe someday I can make that journey down to the Shenandoah Valley for the Sing Me High Music Festival. Can you talk a little bit about what that is and what it’s become?

Greg Yoder  27:03
The Sing Me High Music Festival is a celebration of music and faith in the Shenandoah Valley! It is co-hosted by The Walking Roots Band and the Brethren and Mennonite Heritage Center. This year, it will be August 26, and 27th. I can tell you all of those things because I used to work for the Heritage Center and the festival was a big part of my work there. And was also kind of how I made the transition into that work. But the canned response aside, it’s a really, really beautiful community event. We we are hosted on the grounds of the Brethren and Mennonite Heritage Center. And it’s it’s yeah, it’s a it’s a wonderful celebration of music and the way that it has shaped and formed faith communities, both in brother and midnight traditions, and outside of those traditions, and also the way that faith shapes and informs the music that we sing for ourselves and when we gather together. So it’s really a lot of fun. You You should come down

Seth Crissman  28:20
Our music we write for the whole… like little, big, old, young. And it’s an it’s an event for everyone. So yeah, it’s it’s worth the trip. If you want to head down to the Shenandoah Valley, we’d love to have you come on down.

Ben Wideman  28:34
For those who have enjoyed enjoyed this conversation. Where can they follow what you’re up to where’s the best place to to figure out what’s going on with The Walking Roots Band?

Greg Yoder  28:46
The best place is the walkingrootsband.com And we’ve got a email newsletter there that you will be the first people to know of upcoming music or projects, things like that. You can also find us on Facebook, at The Walking Roots Band and on Instagram at @thewalkingrootsband but we really aren’t the best at social media. So, you know, just keep your ears out. We’ll we’ll come to your town soon. Shoot us an email the [email protected]  That’s a good way to get in touch. And yeah, we’ll we’ll do our best to make ourselves known when we’re coming your way.

Seth Crissman  29:27
My students always asked me they say are you all, are you famous? I say oh, we’re not famous, but we’re easy to find. So yeah, if we’re ever rolling through your town, bring your friends. We’d love to share some music with you and get to know you. Yeah,

Greg Yoder  29:41
I should have said probably the most relevant thing is that a lot of our music a lot of our catalog is on Spotify so you can listen on Spotify and then find a place to hear us live because you know streaming music is doesn’t do a whole lot for making the music keep keep happening.

Ben Wideman  30:01
Exactly. Well, friends, thank you so much. Your music your your presence has been a real blessing in my life. And I know in the lives of so many people who’ve come into contact with what you do, and it’s a, it’s an incredible offering for not just for the church, but for all who enjoy what you’re up to. So thank you for that. Thank you so much for being a part of ~ing Podcast.

Greg Yoder  30:25
Thanks for having us.

Ben Wideman  30:27
Next week on ~ing Podcast, we’re joined by a familiar voice. Reverend Dr. Dennis Edwards is with us to talk about his work as a theologian and author.

Dennis Edwards  30:37
A lot more people of color have been writing books and talking about what does it mean for our voices to be to be more prominent, or even when we look at the landscape and say, Okay, we’ve got racism, patriarchy, sexism, so many of these isms that we’re confronting. And there are some people who say, Well, you know, the people in the margins have been talking about that for a long time.

Ben Wideman  31:00
As always we’d like to thank our guests and all who support ~ing Podcast. Thank you for joining us on the journey. If you enjoyed the show, please leave us a review in your favorite podcasting app. And if you have something to share, send us a message at [email protected] or by leaving us a voicemail. ~ing Podcast is hosted by Reverend Allison Maus and Reverend Dr. Dennis Edwards. And produced by me, Ben Wideman. Views and opinions expressed on ~ing Podcast are those of our hosts and guests and may not represent that of Leader Magazine or MennoMedia. ~ing Podcast is a production of MennoMedia, a nonprofit publisher that creates thoughtful Anabaptist resources to enrich faith in a complex world. To find out more, visit us online at MennoMedia.org.