Thursday, May 24, 2012


Akron Empire would like to welcome guest blogger Ash Adams, a freelance writer and good friend with Ohio roots currently based in Anchorage, Alaska. Her work has appeared in dozens of publications nationally. To follow Adams' work, visit her blog, Brian & Ash, which she manages with her husband, Brian Adams.

This Band Could Be Your Life: Bethesda

Photo courtesy of Brian Adams

It's really rare for one of your friends' bands to be one that you actually listen to when they're not around. And it's not because you don't love your friends—you do—it's just that you'd rather listen to good music.

This is why it took me almost 2 years to listen to Bethesda's first EP. Because I'm friends with Eric Ling and Shanna Delaney and, quite frankly, a little jaded after listening to a lot of bad music created by good people that I love. So when I finally listened to the band's first full-length album, Love in the Time of Tra La La, I was humbled, I was ashamed, and at the same time, I was squealing with delight.

YES. This was what I'd been waiting for at all of those other shows, listening to all of the failed bands of my friends.

Powerhouse lady vocals, poignant lyrics, melodic guitars, dancy percussion, tambourine, chimes, violin, and Midwestern swagger all intelligently stitched together into joyful, full sound. It was better than good—it was something I wanted to listen to and share with people.

My lack of faith then is embarrassing still. It's not that I didn't know that they were talented—the first time I heard Shanna's voice was in her car on one summer day in Kent, and I was blown away. So, consider this piece my personal apology for not believing in you guys from the get-go, Shanna and Eric. Please understand that I'd just been burned too many times before.

This disclosure is also for you, the reader. I may be friends with Bethesda, but I am still severely unbiased. I had no idea that Bethesda's songs would make it onto nearly every mix I've made during the past 2 years, including the one I made for my first child's birth. In fact, if asked beforehand, I may have bet against them. But I was wrong, so wrong.

And even still, Eric was willing to answer a few questions for me this week so that I could tell their story on this blog.

Bethesda's story starts in the way of many good stories. He meets she and then good things happen. Eric and Shanna, now married, were both attending Kent State, where they met one night through a mutual friend at a local pizza shop, Pete's Arena. “We had one of those moments,” Eric says, “where we knew something significant had just happened. A few “chance” encounters later, Shanna scrawled her number down my arm and the rest is history. I was hers without debate from that time forward.”

Eric was writing lo-fi guitar songs before they met, and Shanna was just coming out of the Kent State musical theatre program, so it was natural that music was a part of their relationship from the very beginning. “It was actually really difficult to begin with,” Eric says. “Shanna was vocally trained, and I was not trained in anything – ever. So there was a natural tension as we stumbled towards coming up with something that we were both excited about. After quite a bit of blood, sweat and tears, we had a handful of lo-fi acoustic-folk songs that we started to perform for our friends and family.”

They started playing these songs together as the Silver Diamond Doves. A couple of years later, Eric says, after attending an Anathallo, Sufjan Stevens show at Calvin College, the duo decided that they wanted to collaborate with other musicians, “to bring even more life to the songs that we had been creating.”

The couple spread the word at Vineyard Community Church, a local arts-focused church that they attended, and soon the couple had found a bassist (Dan Corby), a drummer (Justin Rife), and the band's original guitarist (Jesse Sloan).

“Soon, we had a full band, and we were intoxicated by the creative high of collaborating to create something truly original, full, and a whole level above what we were capable of by ourselves,” Eric says. “In our first practice, we had our ahhhhhhh! moment where everything fit so perfectly and naturally that we knew we wanted to take it as far as we possibly could.”

The band booked their first show at a coffee shop in Stow soon after, but as the day quickly approached, the group was still without a name. In the end, the name came from Sloan's father who suggested “Bethesda,” which in Jewish and Christian tradition is a pool of healing.

“We love the imagery of this place where the broken gathered in hopes that the water will bring some healing and give new life to them,” Eric says. “We write honest songs about the suffering and difficulties of life, but also about the life-giving hope that we believe in, so we thought it was fitting.”

The name stuck. It has just been a few years since Bethesda played that first show in the coffee shop, but since then, the Akron/Kent-based sextet has toured all over the country, playing at SXSW this year and booked for Bonnaroo 2012. The band has been slated for over thirty shows on big-name networks, and was interviewed by the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.

Photo courtesy of Brian Adams

And, in addition to working day jobs, they've found time to do some serious recording. After releasing its self-titled EP in 2008, the band released its first full-length album (Love in the Time of Tra La La) in 2010, its second EP (Dreamtiger & Other Tails) in 2011, and they are currently working on their second full-length album, which is scheduled to be released in 2013.

“We are really excited about this one,” Eric says of the album currently in production, tentatively called The Reunion. “I think people will be surprised by the dynamics of the album.”

But even though they've been gaining national acclaim, Bethesda hasn't lost their Cleveland pride.

“Cleveland is a city whose musical history is full of some of rock’s greatest acts,” Eric says. “With the burden and delight of this history, Cleveland is in the middle of an artistic resurgence as the city continues to be filled with appreciative folks that care about culture and invest in their communities. We are thrilled to be a small part of it each time we take the stage in Cleveland. It is truly an electric and unique experience. Really, I think it is a legacy thing. When kids grow up in a creative culture, they are more likely to be supported in their own creative efforts and believe in the importance of creating and sharing their art form. We are privileged to be a part of such a community.”

If you haven't heard Bethesda yet, chances are you will soon. To see them live, visit their website to keep up with their tour schedule or head up to the BeachlandTavern next Wednesday, May 30th where they'll be opening for Plants & Animals.

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