Updated: Jul 9, 2020
| This is the 147th story of Our Life Logs |
At this point, the band had been on the road for days. Our clothes were glued to our bodies with sweat and our muscles winced from nights in cheap motels. Touring was nothing like what I’d pictured. When we got to the venue for a show in Colorado, there were just a few people there—each one sleeping on the stage. Homeless? Just really tired? Couldn’t tell.
Hello, My Brother’s Keeper Tour 2015.
I was born in 1991 and grew up with my four siblings in the little rural town of Moore’s Hill, Indiana. We were a close-knit Christian family. I mean, not that we didn’t have other friends through church or through sports—but when you grow up with just a few neighbors and are home-schooled, it’s hard not to grow close to your siblings. Though I loved my oldest brother and younger sister, it seemed like I did everything with my other brothers, Josh and Titus, who were much closer in age. Some of my best memories are of playing soccer with them.
I started playing piano at six years old. Our mother—who by the way, is extremely musically talented, and not shy about it either—had a house rule for each of us to take five years of mandatory piano lessons. Though I took these lessons like a cruddy cough syrup, I owe a lot of my songwriting passion to them. After years of playing chords and regurgitating the music in the books, I wanted to create my own melodies. Problem was, I just couldn’t figure out how to get the arrangements in my head into the sounds of the piano. It just wouldn’t do.
And so, at 15 years old, I pulled my dad’s Martin guitar off the wall in our basement and became hooked on the hum of its strings. I didn’t know what might lie ahead, and to be honest, I still don’t. What I do know is that I started my career with that guitar and some of the world’s worst original songs.
My brothers and I bonded over music. Josh had taken a liking to the fiddle, Titus became attached to his mandolin, and I couldn’t put down the guitar. We decided we liked jamming together and wanted to start playing as a group. Our first band was formed through Hope Church, where we worshiped. Naturally, we called our band Strings of Hope. It was cheesy, yes, but we got to play with a lot of our friends and cousins, and it was really the first time we got to perform the bluegrass and Southern Gospel music we were raised on. It was a good cheesy. A family band, plus a few. We played for local churches and developed a small following. With Strings of Hope, I continued writing original songs, each one inching closer to a sound that I was proud to have created.
While I was excited to share my music, I would get these feelings of wall-closing-in anxiety at the thought of playing in front of people—something that seemed to come out of nowhere. I didn’t know what to do. I loved playing, but the nausea and dread it caused was overwhelming. I sought help from my doctor who prescribed me anxiety medication. Over time, the feelings tapered off and I didn’t need to take them anymore, but it took a while. At 16, I realized that being on stage was not going to come easily, just like writing songs and learning to play the guitar, but sharing my passion was well worth the pitfalls.
After high school, I went to college for a business degree in 2010. I think I just chose for the sake of choosing. While balancing studying and a full-time job, my brothers and I became unsettled as Strings of Hope had run its course. Many of its members cut the band out of their busy schedules, but the three of us liked playing music too much to let it become history. We played around with the idea of forming a band of our own.
To get started, we figured the first thing we would need was a name for our band. One night in 2012, late into the evening, I sat with my brothers Titus and Josh, and Josh’s wife Meredith, trying to come up with a band name. Just to preface, having a serious discussion with my brothers almost never happens. To be fair, we started the conversation with good intent, but eventually it turned into throwing out the goofiest string of adjectives and nouns we could come up with. We were just belly-laughing, saying things like, Red Runs the Sky (that would have been fun), when finally, Meredith chimed in.
“What about My Brother’s Keeper?”
And it stuck—mainly because it was the only normal name anyone had suggested that night (but maybe we’ll come back to Red Runs the Sky, who knows?).
After that we began reaching out to people in the music industry to show us where to start. While I was still in college, My Brother’s Keeper recorded our first EP (which by the way, we don’t sell, because well, it’s not our best work) and started sending it to venues to book shows. Sometimes we got calls back, and sometimes we didn’t. But eventually, we got a gig at a local club in Cincinnati called the Underground, which was the place for Christian teens to hang out at the time. And then we got to play there again, and again, and from there, we were able to book more and more shows around the area. Were we growing like a weed? No. But it was fun, and we didn’t stop growing and or stop gaining fans.
As a new college grad in 2014, I immediately got into a few sales and business jobs, finding myself enclosed in the gray cavern of my cubicle. We played a few shows here and there on weekends, but I was itching to sink deeper into music, not into my chair. It was depressing, punching numbers all day—for funeral insurance, mind you. While at this desk job, I made it my goal to book our very first tour (and once I did, I was out of there).
Our first national tour began in June of 2014, and to be honest, it was kind of discouraging. While we had gradually built a local following, no one really knew who we were outside of Cincinnati. When we played, people withheld any notion of a positive reaction, let alone turn their heads to the stage while we played. Though I never thought fans would roll out the red carpet for us or have us sign their babies, I did expect to stand in front of an applauding crowd. And to top it off, traveling was gritty. The long hours smashed in an Astro van with our equipment during the middle of summer wasn’t wonderful for band morale.
When the tour ended, we had played with a few pretty great shows. Overall, the feeling was, “That was pretty fun, but let’s not go out on that note.”
When we got back we were all exhausted, but life moves on and I had to find some work. My brother Josh was teaching Math at a local high school that needed substitute teachers. I thought, why not? Turns out, I fell in love with it. Yeah, it wasn’t music, but I found out that I was just as passionate about people and getting to know and help teens. As soon as a position opened up in the special education department, I applied and was hired. It has been like a second home.
The next year in 2015, we toured heavily—and you never know what’s going to happen on the road. After a few weeks of shows (both very good, and very bad), we followed our schedule to our next booking with our beloved friends Edward and Jane in tow. We were supposed to play a three-hour set for very little money, and none of us wanted to be there. When we got inside, it was horrible. Almost no one was there, and those who were slept on the stage—it was unreal. After years of inching along in our success, constantly growing and grinding, we were faced with this slap in the face.
And well, we left.
For the first time, My Brother’s Keeper set up on the sidewalk a few blocks down from this venue. I cracked my guitar case open for tips, and we played. For hours, we just had fun. We played original songs, covers, did some jamming, and believe it or not, we made money doing it. This decision didn’t change the trajectory of our success during the tour, but it reminded us why we played. Not to check off the next venue on our tour just to say we played somewhere, but rather to share our passion with new crowds and new people.
Since the 2015 tour, we’ve gone on three more major tours, released two albums, and signed with Poor Mountain Records. I think we all knew that we weren’t going to instantly become rich and famous by going into the genre of bluegrass. I mean, how many bluegrass artists can the average person name? But that’s not really why I ever picked up my dad’s Martin guitar in the first place, or why I pushed through pages and pages of handwritten lyrics. The instant success that one equates with happiness just doesn’t exist for many of us, but that isn’t a bad thing. If I’m passionate about something, I won’t let it go, regardless of how many people are sleeping on the stage.
What I’m saying is, trust the slow growth. I do.
This is the story of Benj Luckhaupt
Benj grew up in a musically-gifted family, with brothers who shared his passion for playing live music. At each point in Benj’s life, he has followed his love of music, not for popularity, but for his genuine love of sharing what he is able to create. Through the ups and downs of band life, he has learned that success requires patience and hard work. When Benj is not changing the world on stage or in the classroom, you can find him watching horror movies, hiking, watching sports, or enthusing about classic cars.
If you are interested in learning more about Benj’s passion with My Brother’s Keeper, please visit:
MBK website: https://www.mybrotherskeeperband.com/
And for more fun, listen to their Bluegrass cover of “Take on Me” by Aha: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Hpy0Pm8lvyQ
This story first touched our hearts on September 1, 2018.
| Writer: Colleen Walker | Editors: MJ; Kristen Petronio |