I got to sit down with Mike Ericksen, an amazingly inspired soul, whose creative works invite you to reflect on your ideas of home, faith, and heritage.
His own journey to define home, faith, and heritage for himself and those who walk the path with him culminated in a book — Upon Destiny’s Song, a motion picture — Walking in Obedience: The Ole Madsen Story, an album — Tyme: Aspects of Home — a collaborated effort of Cedar Breaks band, and Tyme’s breathtaking musical video-documentary. Even with all of the vision and monumental effort, Mike and the rest moved themselves out of the spotlight and invite you to focus on the beauty and message of their work.
“Take my hand, don’t walk too fast
Down the trail of ages past” ~Eutaw
Mike began his story to me by describing the creation of the song “Eutaw.” He was enthralled by Utah’s Black Hawk Indian War (1865-1872). He felt inspired to write a song about Utah, but didn’t know where to start or what to focus on. In a flash of inspiration, he decided to use the old time spelling of Utah—Eutaw.
He went fishing with a friend. The running river behind them sounded like voices in the water. Mike found out that an Indian legend for the area said a squaw lost her child in the water and was still searching for him, hence the personified voices in the river. Utah’s mountains are magnificent, but Mike mused about how cautious people had to be when someone came over the mountains—was he friend or foe? How great it was when people came in peace. It reminded him of a scripture “How beautiful upon the mountains are the feet of him that bringeth good tidings, that is the founder of peace” (Mosiah 15:18). Truly, the Savior is the bringer of ultimate peace.
Mike saw and felt the personified attributes of the earth and felt the metaphor so powerfully, that he wrote Eutaw as a person. Suddenly, the song just flowed. Mike said, “It became a song about me when I thought I was writing about her (Utah).”
“When I stand on sacred ground
I can hear their voices
Soft and low they seem to say, look up
Beautiful are her feet
Upon the mountain peak
For she … is called Eutaw”
Producer Norman Bosworth contacted Mike about putting scenery to Eutaw. They entered the film in the LDS Film Festival in 2012. He had four films in that festival. His documentary film on handcart pioneer Ole Madsen won in a film festival in Southern Utah.
A 40 minute documentary on Danish Mormon convert Ole Madsen and his family as they cross the plains with the ill-fated Willie handcart company enroute to Salt Lake City, Utah
Walking in Obedience: The Ole Madsen Story, tells the story of handcart pioneers, in their own words, crossing the plains to Utah who, unexpectedly ravaged by early winter storms, face certain death until Mormon rescuers arrive with food, clothing, blankets, and wagons enabling the remaining pioneers to finish their journey to Salt Lake City. Ole Madsen is Mike’s ancestor. Ole and his family joined the handcart company. Ole perished days before the rescuers reached the bedraggled pioneers.
Mike began studying this heritage about 10 years prior to making the film and was so affected by the story that he knew everyone he talked to needed to hear it. He felt like Americans have two problems: 1)Americans take things for granted, and 2)then Americans feel guilty about what they have.
“We were given what we have by what someone sacrificed – a slave in slavery, a Mormon from Nauvoo, an immigrant. Someone sacrificed at the end of the day. Who gave me this right to choose?
On the news one night, a teenage girl said how thankful she was for living in Utah and grateful for a new start. She’d lost everything in Katrina. But, she didn’t complain about it. That’s what I found so great about the stories of those pioneers. They didn’t want to blame their leaders. The majority were just so grateful and thankful for everything despite what they went through. I looked at the ground where I stood and Tyme came to me.”
“Think I know the answer now for all
of us that roam if we just stay together
we will surely make it home” ~Tyme
Mike’s 10 years of research also culminated in Upon Destiny’s Song. He met Sage Steadman and talked about his vision for the book. Upon Destiny’s Song is the story of 10 year-old Ane Marie Madsen, Ole Madsen’s daughter. Through his research, Mike identified 12 days of Ane Marie’s life. One of Mike’s songs is interjected into every chapter of the book.
“When Ane Marie opens her eyes, I want to know how she feels and what she sees. I want to tell people what it was really like back then. I want to tell it a little more real.” Mike’s own life experiences are interspersed as chapters throughout the book. As the Madsens make their way to Zion, Mike traverses his own journey to purpose, self-awareness, to seeing.
Sage trekked all of over Wyoming and they worked together to get the story right. Several historians read the manuscript and pushed back on some things which Mike then modified or let go. After three years of writing, Mike and Sage finished the book and a CD to accompany it. After they were done, they discovered that Sage had a Danish ancestor in that company as well!! He had a 10 year-old daughter, who was probably friends with Ane Marie.
Mike originally titled the film Unsung as a metaphor for the unsung lives of Ane Marie and Ole Madsen. But after doing the final script for the film, writer James Jordan told Mike “We’re not going to call it Unsung, we’re going to call it Walking in Obedience.” There were too many metaphors in the story for it to just be Unsung. It wasn’t just the story of the Madsens, or the rest of the Willie handcart company. It and Upon Destiny’s Song tell the story of humanity.
As boring and mundane as my life is, I realize there will be people looking for me. I look at pictures of Ane Marie and look at her eyes, just trying to figure out who she is. I learned what a true hero was. Heroes are people who get up every day and sacrifice for their kids, give up their time for their community, and church. That’s the people you gain strength from. In reality, we know our heroes, we live with them.
I realized what you want mostly in life is that if you’re raising kids, you want them to be good people. Being Christian has less to do with dogma and more to do with helping people. The Gospel is restored. We have more understanding about what truth is, how it’s important and how it comes to you. It’s funny when people talk about ‘how’ to be a Christian…it’s just how you treat your neighbors.”
This project taught me what faith look likes, what hardship looks like, what sacred space looks like. That’s kind of what I got out of it at the end of the day. There’s a lot of meaning of life sitting there.
Cedar Breaks Band
“What I have has been given to me. If I see a door and it looks like it’s open, I walk through it.” That’s how Cedar Breaks Band came to be.
Mike, guitarist, and Diana Glissmeyer, vocalist, met doing presentations about pioneers around the country. As the concept for Cedar Breaks moved along, they enlisted banjoist, Keith Behunin, who lives in St. George, Utah.
Mike and his daughter Jenny listened to Rebecca Croft’s CD and met her at Brigham Young University for lunch. Mike told Rebecca he wanted to do an album about what home is—all the places that can be home for people. She agreed to add her vocals to the mix.
When Cedar Breaks come together, they come together with great purpose. Mike and the band felt so strongly about their purpose overshadowing the band members as individuals that they didn’t even want a picture of the band on the album cover. But, they got overruled, and there is a small picture of the band on the back cover.
The purpose is evident in the lyrics of every Cedar Breaks’ new age folk song.
After holding his granddaughter Nora for the first time, “Set to Wander” flowed through Mike’s hands. He saw her life’s mission, and himself and Nora walking through life holding hands.
“She set herself to wander
As she opened up her eyes
I thought as I held her
How the time would surely fly
And I wanted to tell her
She was born among the free
What I had to give her
Was given once to me
Like the gentle spring rain
That lets the flowers grow
Into the even flow” ~Set To Wander
The band’s producer, Michael Gibbon, wanted to sing and record “Set to Wander” for his wife for Mother’s Day, they had just had twins. When the band heard his rendition, they immediately asked him to add his vocals and guitar skills to theirs. Michael’s brother, Guy Gibbons, became their keyboardist and Michael’s wife, Jennifer, the violinist.
Cedar Breaks had also just finished “Prayer,” written by Mike’s friend Eliza Gilkyson. Mike liked Prayer because the prayer doesn’t ask for anything, instead offering words of gratitude for things beautiful and things difficult.
“Thank you for my tears
Loved ones who forgave me
Thank you for my darkest years
All the sorrow that made me.” ~Prayer
The band couldn’t figure out how to end the song. Mike said, “There is a place between sleep and prayer, where you’re awake, not quite asleep, but in the middle of saying a prayer. I wanted to find that place at the end of ‘Prayer.’ The band captured that feeling by humming for 2 ½ minutes at the end of the song.
Mike then wrote the rest of the songs specifically for the vocalists, just so he could hear their voices blending together. Because Cedar Breaks Band didn’t have a deadline to release the album, they took their time, melding and crafting the music together. They finished album after 3 years.
Then, they blew away normal music video expectations with a fabulous video documentary incorporating Cedar Break’s soulful music, with spectacular scenery of Utah, dance, and narrative. It’s truly stunning and moving.
After Tyme: Aspects of Home’s release, the band met at Mike’s house for a practice. Mike told them they’d need to get out and play for people. He also had written another song called Light (which has actually just been released in 2014) and he really wanted to do something with the song. But, there was mutiny at the practice. The band had 6 babies born to band members in the previous 4 years. Everyone said they couldn’t play out as Cedar Breaks band, because of the time it would take away from their families. None of them felt good about making an album about family and then saying, “Ok, we’re going to play this bar tonight, get your babysitters lined up.” So for now, they’re a studio band because of the commitment they’ve made to their families. They’ve also made a commitment to make really good music, but they’ll worry about touring sometime down the road.
Mike concluded with an emphasis on Cedar Break’s purpose.
If the band were here, they would say it’s really cool to be part of a project that’s based on a cause. Everyone has a cause and a flag they need to carry in their lives. This was a really fun one and an easy one to carry. There are a lot of people in the world who don’t know who even their parents are. When you give that gift of purpose to people, it really energizes them. Everybody has a story…that’s the end of the story. People need to know who they are and how to get themselves there. Tyme is about taking the time to figure out who you are and why you are here.
I asked Mike what song or lyrics he felt specifically reflected his heritage.
“I think my favorite lyrics are in the song ‘Tyme’….a treatise on the vastness around us and the endless path that we are on. ‘It’s not how far you journey on, just with whom you walk along.’”
I love the band’s tagline: Unique Sound. Familiar Feel. It’s so true.
I am a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. I have moved 64 times and have not tired of experiencing this beautiful earth! I love the people, languages, histories/anthropologies, & especially religious cultures of the world. My life long passion is the study & searching out of religious symbolism, specifically related to ancient & modern temples. My husband Anthony and I love our bulldog Stig, adventures, traveling, movies, motorcycling, and time with friends and family.