Grow Where You're Planted
the story of david crowder
Trees survive because they have roots—deep roots that reach into the soil and pull out nutrients. Roots that keep them firmly planted even during storms, wind, and rain. Their roots provide sustenance and protection. But it’s not just the survival of the tree that depends on these roots. Trees bear fruit, they flourish, because they have roots.
When David Crowder left Texas, and the David Crowder Band dissolved several years ago, he planted himself in Atlanta not knowing how his roots would be affected by the soil he moved to. David moved to Atlanta to attend Passion City Church, pastored by Louie Giglio, Shelley’s husband. Crowder was part of sixsteprecords, the record label managed by the Giglios, and he wanted to be closer to the church and the Giglios. But it wasn’t only sixsteprecords and Passion City Church that became larger influences in his life.
The specific area of Atlanta where Crowder moved to is called Cabbagetown, where the mills of Old Atlanta were located. When the mills were in operation, people from the Appalachian Mountains (mostly Scotch-Irish immigrants) would come to Atlanta for work, bringing their music, complete with banjos and mandolins, with them. A thriving community arose from this migration. Carroll Street runs through Cabbagetown and is the birthplace of country music. The first country music radio station came from this area. This Appalachian music is still a big influence in Cabbagetown, and Crowder found the Appalachian spirit influencing the music he began creating as a solo artist.
When asked about how his music was impacted when he moved to Atlanta, Crowder says, “I didn’t know if I was going to do music, but it became apparent that this was what I was wound up to do. If I’m going to do solo now, and the music will be all my fault, what sound am I going to put out?”
He began to think about the purpose of music as a way to form a community, and that’s exactly what had happened in Cabbagetown—a community had formed around bluegrass. Crowder was no stranger to bluegrass music. After all, he had grown up in Texarkana, where bluegrass is as natural as sweet tea and overalls. Crowder was right at home in Cabbagetown.
After a while, he began to ask if this Appalachian music and the worship music he created could coexist. “I was trying to find the pulse of the community, and it was exactly where I landed. Chasing roots and planting roots. Affirming and inspiring. I felt like I was on to something that came from a source and place that was as authentic as what I wanted to express through music.” And that is how the sound in his first solo album, Neon Steeple, was born.
The cotton mill in Cabbagetown is on one side of a train track, and on the other is the birthplace of Martin Luther King, Jr. and Ebenezer Baptist Church. This was the most diverse neighborhood in Atlanta during the Civil Rights Movement, and the community was already living what Dr. King was preaching.
Crowder found himself planted in the rich soil of the Appalachian heritage and the Civil Rights Movement. Two seemingly very different cultures, but each has impacted his sound. “We are all human and moved by similar things, similar experiences. I began to express that through the sounds of music and in a place of authenticity—musically and geographically. It was so unplanned.”
“After being here for a while,” Crowder adds, “you can’t help but take in what is Atlanta. It’s incredibly diverse. It has a hum to it! It affected me as soon as I got there, but after being there a bit, it started affecting me musically. I wanted my music to sound like where I live.” So it isn’t surprising that his second solo album, American Prodigal, has a different sound than his first.
But it’s not merely the culture in these places that impacts Crowder; it is the people. “My music comes out of my relationships. I love people. I’ve had so many people in my life not give up on me. People let go of relationships too quickly. I see that the investment in people is worth it even when it’s difficult, and it gets more beautiful when you stick around for it.”
Crowder speaks of the inspiration in his music being the people in his life. He even imagines particular people as he is writing a song, thinking about how they would respond, what words and sounds they would use. This reaching into his roots adds an authenticity and profound depth to his music.
And he hasn’t forgotten his first roots! Crowder’s Instagram account is punctuated by #mypeople. His family and community from Texarkana is just as important to him today as it was when he was growing up. He celebrates their ingenuity and the ways that they are gritty and different from other communities across the United States. “The work-arounds that we watched my dad and friends come up with! A neighbor bought an old van at a pawn shop, and it was prone to mechanical failure on occasion. His accelerator cable broke. He drilled a hole in the engine cover and tied rope to it. He would pull the accelerator arm with the rope. That’s genius—or almost. This is the spirit of America. We will get it done. It’s ingenuity out of necessity.” The pride that he feels for the communities of which he is a part is palpable.
So, how does one flourish as David Crowder has flourished? How does one succeed while maintaining authenticity? How does one celebrate all aspects of life and the differences that occur in the communities we join? The answer to flourishing rather than merely surviving is the same as the tree and its roots. Flourishing comes in longevity. Crowder was planted somewhere long enough he could see fruit from his life. He connected with his community and invested in people, knowing they are the soil of his life.
Words by Debra Mimbs
Photos by Mary Caroline Russell