Since its founding in 1996, Moondance has evolved in countless ways–but one thing that has never changed is the spirit behind our mission. Although we now travel to 5 continents, have over 1700 students signed up to travel with us, and will hire 150+ Trip Leaders this summer, what makes us special is our commitment to intentional relationship building, mentorship, and creating life changing experiences through adventure travel.
In this new blog series, we want to highlight a few stories from individuals who experienced the magic of Moondance, how it impacted their life, and where it has led them to now. We figured there’s no better place to start than with the lead guitarist and singer of The Stews–Preston Hall!
Preston grew up in Dothan, Alabama and began his Moondance journey in 2014 on our Colorado Trail trip and then returned the following year to explore the Pacific Northwest! However, it was his experience on Northern Lights in 2017–with his leaders Kelly McGee, Tyler Gabrielson, and Shelby McMahon–that made a profound impact on his life and helped him find his greatest passion. They “helped me grow as a musician [and] as a human… we definitely bonded over some music and just growing in life… it was a really cool time to just get to meet them.”
While they were on the trail in the backcountry of Alaska, Tyler and Preston had countless conversations about their shared interest of rock music, “Tyler put me on to so many great bands–The Grateful Dead and all these Allman Brothers tunes that I went on to study and really get into as a musician.” Tyler, or TY, as he is affectionately known within the Moondance community, is oft-remembered for sharing his love for this style of music with his students during his trips. Additionally, Shelby, a big music fan herself, gave Preston a copy of a book about Duane Allman after their trip. These intentional acts by Preston’s leaders helped inspire him to pursue his dream.
That dream began to become a reality when Preston met Wyatt Griffith, the band’s drummer, early on in their college career at Auburn University. Shortly after, Wyatt introduced Preston to two of his high school friends and former bandmates, Bennett Baugus and Blake Dobbs, over winter break and The Stews were formed. The band released their original EP in April of 2021, have hundreds of thousands of views on Spotify, and spend most of their time on the road playing in front of sellout crowds from Nashville to New York and beyond.
As Preston reflected on his journey from Moondance student to rockstar, “Moondance really was some of the special moments for me that helped me get out of my comfort zone, meet new people, see a broader vision in life and the bigger picture…so get out there…you never know where life is going to take you and who you are going to meet and run into–so live in the moment!”
In a full circle moment last May, Preston reunited with his Trip Leaders at Staff Training to tell their story–inspiring the next generation of Moondance leaders to realize the incredible opportunity they have to make a genuine impact on the lives of young people. Then taking a break from all of the incredible venues they now perform in, The Stews performed live at Camp Wayfarer for our 2023 Trip Leader Staff!