Top 5: Podcasts for the Road

May 20, 2022

This summer In All Things is light-heartedly including recommendations, tips, and joys that we would love to share with you, readers and listeners, in the format of Top 5 Fridays, switching up our themes each week. We hope you enjoy the first in this series. And share a comment if there is a “Top 5 Friday” topic you’d like us to explore.

It’s May, and the final vestiges of winter are starting to recede. Summer is on the way, and I don’t know about you but about this time of year I always start the dreaming process for summer travels. My wife and I are master road-trippers and we regularly hit the summer roads, driving across the country for weddings, conferences, as well as the occasional adventure at national parks, campgrounds, and all that a leisurely road trip has to offer.

One of the highlights of any road trip that extends the 4-hour mark for us is good listening material. If you’re anything like me the long hours on the freeways which connect us to loved ones, incredible sights, and adventures tend to fly by a little faster with a good podcast or two. So whether you’re planning your Memorial Day weekend, or just gearing up for a summer on the road, I thought I’d share with you my top five podcasts to tune into this summer.

Art and Advocacy Podcast:
Into the Mix: A Ben and Jerry’s Podcast about Joy and Justice

Into the Mix: A Ben and Jerry’s Podcast about Joy and Justice is a podcast run by Ben and Jerry’s (yes, the ice cream company) in partnership with host Ashley C. Ford. While a noted podcaster and host in her own right, Ford also is a New York Times bestselling author of Somebody’s Daughter and a frequent writer in publications such as The Guardian, New York Times, and Slate.

The format of the podcast is a series of conversations with artists who have partnered with Ben and Jerry’s ice cream company on a variety of artistic projects from shared sponsorship of events to art for a pint of ice cream. The artists who Ford interviews are those who allow their art to influence their advocacy and their advocacy to affect their art. Through conversations with artists like John Legend, Favianna Rodriguez, and Andrew Aydin, Ford and her guests find ways for art to create a broader imagination for how love makes justice, joy makes freedom, and how to embody the change which we want to see in the world.

I’ll be honest this one kind of caught me off guard. At first the gimmick of Ben and Jerry’s being the main sponsor for this podcast was a little odd. But the format of the conversations quickly captivated me. Hearing the vision and passion of these artists as they explained how their life’s work feeds into how they hope to change the world is compelling and crafted a fresh imagination in me about how to combine my own artistry with the needs of societal reform. Additionally, it was fun to learn about some of the ways which social justice issues and social reform have been a part of the Ben and Jerry’s model from the early years.

Best Enjoyed: With a pint of the Americone Dream or Cherry Garcia at a rest stop or while riding shotgun… Or while driving… I’m not the boss of you.

Story Podcast:
The Moth

If you somehow haven’t had the chance to listen to The Moth Radio Hour or The Moth Podcast, consider this your official invitation to do so. The Moth is “a nonprofit organization that celebrates the commonality and diversity of human experience through the art and craft of true, personal storytelling.” This statement has led the crew to create all sorts of storytelling resources, write books about storytelling, host live storytelling events around the world, and cultivate multiple seasons of podcast episodes with some of the best stories from their events.

The podcast as a variety of podcasts hosts and features storytellers from around the world whose stories vary in length from five minutes to twenty minutes. The current season of The Moth is a little different than some of their previous seasons. They are celebrating their twenty-fifth anniversary by releasing one story per year from each of the last twenty-five years of their show in addition to their normal hour long Moth Radio Hour. This means that there is a variety of content to consume. With their shorter shows coming in at around fifteen minutes and their longer ones coming in at around an hour, it’s the perfect show to sneak in while you run errands or while you’re on the road to the beach.

I’ve been a long-time listener of The Moth and the thing that I’m particularly grateful is the wide and welcoming view of humanity that it offers. Their storytellers come from every demographic imaginable. Not all are trained storytellers (though some are) and their tales are filled with the real, the honest, the funny, the gritty, and the transformative elements of humanity. Regardless of their experience level, each of the storytellers have worked with the team at The Moth to craft their art into engaging and interesting structures, which give me and their audiences a clear glimpse into their world, even if only for a moment.

Best Enjoyed: While driving though big cities.

Nature Podcasts:
The Wild with Chris Morgan

There are a plethora of great nature podcasts out there. Just search for the National Park service on any podcast source and you’ll get a bunch of great national park specific podcasts that are a great pregame for any park trip. But if you’re looking to have your imagination captivated by the creatures and ecosystems within the national parks and the wilds of the world while you’re spending hours road-tripping to them, then The Wild with Chris Morgan is a great option. The Wild is a podcast born through a partnership with renowned British ecologist, conservationist, TV host, author, and podcaster Chris Morgan and KOUW Public Radio in Seattle.

The podcast focuses on a series of deep dives on particular animals and ecosystems around the world: Did you know that the woodpecker’s tongue provides shock absorption for its brain? Did you know that de-ruralization is in fact a hindrance to many ecosystem’s survival? Have you heard about the rescue of hundreds of sea otters from nuclear test blasts in the pacific? All these topics are covered in the most recent season of The Wild plus three additional seasons for your listening pleasure.

I think the thing that stands out to me about this podcast is how hospitably it welcomes listeners into the nature’s wonder. The soundscape and tone of Chris Morgan’s hosting fosters a National Geographic feel (or NOVA for any old school PBS folks out there). While the show doesn’t shy away from hard realities like deforestation, mass extinction, and climate change, the tone of the show welcomes the listener to expand their horizons and envision creatures, ecosystems, and nature itself as something filled with wonder, danger, and beauty.

Best enjoyed: While driving toward an outdoor adventure. But not while you’re sleepy, as Morgan’s soft British tones will definitely lull you towards a rest stop nap.

Religion Podcasts:
Holy Heretics

Holy Heretics: Losing Religion and Finding Jesus is a podcast which was born from the organization called The Sophia Society, whose mission is, “To provide a sacred space for spiritual formation by exploring, experiencing, and cultivating intimate union with our Creator.” The show is hosted by Gary Alan Taylor and Kelly Rose Lamb and features a wide variety of guests across its fifty-episode library.

The podcast focuses on fostering a space which can hold honest conversations about religion, modern day Christianity, and the deconstructing church. They feature a wide array of guests which include spiritual seekers, scholars, activists, and experts as they seek to find their way through the trappings of religion and discover the true teachings of Jesus. Their podcasts tend to be about an hour long and feature deep-dive conversations with their guests, which include Dr. Debra Rienstra, Dr. Kristin Kobez Du Mez, and Dr. Randy Woodley, to name a few.

This is not a podcast for the ecclesial faint of heart. The conversations they get into include substantial questions about the appropriateness of labeling things as heresies, the nature and efficacy of orthodox faith, and broad questions about mystic spirituality and its application in modern Christianity. If buzzwords like ex-vangelicals, deconstruction, and liberal theology tend to rile you up than this podcast will be a good exercise in breath control. In listening to this podcast there was more than one moment where I found myself raising a quizzical eyebrow at one insight or another. That said, the conversations and the sort of compassionate curiosity which Taylor and Lamb cultivate creates a space where potentially faith-shaking questions can be asked non-anxiously and with grace. If you want to give this podcast a try, I strongly suggest listening to their first episode to start things off. In it they describe their ethos and their name and set up the direction the podcast will be heading.

Best enjoyed: While driving with someone you enjoy having deep conversations with.

Music Podcasts:
Broken Record

Broken Record is a podcast from Pushkin which is Malcolm Gladwell’s podcasting flagship. The podcast features Gladwell and co-hosts Rick Rubin, Bruce Hedlam, and Justin Richmond having conversations with a variety of the music industry’s greatest names about their music, life, the music industry, philosophy, and pretty much whatever way the conversation spins.

In its nearly two-hundred episodes the podcast has covered some of the greatest names in the music industry: Rufus Wainright, Questlove, Bruce Springsteen, Glen Hansard, Vampire Weekend, Jack White, Alicia Keys, Norah Jones, Bonnie Rait, and James Taylor are among the many names who sit down with one of the hosts to discuss their music careers. In addition to these interviews there are frequent guest episodes from other podcasts which bring in interesting investigative stories about the music industry and the “greats” who have departed.

The thing that stands out to me about this podcast is the variety that it offers. If you listen to music, you will find an artist on this podcast that you know and want to hear interviewed. Not only does this variety assure your interest, but it also encourages a broadening of horizons. Some of my favorite episodes are the ones which introduced me to an artist. I will frequently find myself on Spotify after having listened to these conversations, eager to hear the creative expression of a given artist. Add to that the production level which we have come to expect from Gladwell and Pushkin’s podcasts, and you have an excellent companion for any summer road trip.

Best Enjoyed: With the latest album of the episode’s featured artist cued up on your car’s radio.

That’s it, the top five podcast recommendations for your upcoming highway adventure. I hope they serve you well and lead to many conversations, laughs, and miles covered on your next summer road trip.

About the Author
  • Jackson Nickolay is originally from the North Woods of Minnesota along the shore of Lake Superior, but has lived in Holland, Michigan for the last 6 years. He completed a Master of Divinity from Western Theological Seminary with a focus on worship design. He has a passion for living into the dual vocation of an artist and a minister and finds application for these callings in worship music, embodied scripture, theatre, writing, and liturgical arts. He is married to Hannah Barker Nickolay who also graduated with a Masters in Divinity from Western Theological Seminary. Together with some close friends they run a small liturgical arts company called Wayfolk Arts, which focuses on crafting liturgies, scripture enactments, prayers, songs, and blessings for small and large ecclesial communities. Jackson is also the co-host and co-founding member of the Podcast No Script, a weekly podcast which centers on unscripted conversations about theatre's best scripts.

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