Benjamin Beiler on "Why The Hell Not"
The story of growing up amish to becoming a country singer
I admit, I’m an instigator. I was always the ring leader growing up. A rebel at heart.
I was raised in an Amish community in central Pennsylvania. Music was forbidden, other than singing acapella in school and church. No instruments or recorded music. By the age of six, I was up at the crack of dawn working on my parents’ farm. After eighth grade, I worked full time. I loved to sing, though, and sang alone whenever I could get away with it. I sang in the barn with the diesel generator running because I was terrified my dad would hear me.
My dad and I clashed big time. He was a rule follower, I was a rule breaker. His mantra was “don’t question authority.” My instinct was to question everyone and everything. He’d say stuff like “you’re worthless” and tell me I wasn’t good enough. I looked up to my dad and wanted to be like him—a hard worker, a good family man. His words cut deep.
I listened to a cd player until my parents found it and made me smash it. I was always creating things, forbidden and not. I rigged up a loud speaker with a battery and old telephone receiver. A mini barn I built from the ground up still stands today.
It was tough growing up hearing I was going to go to hell if I did this or that. But even though I lived in such a restricted environment, I always had these crazy dreams. I wanted a computer to watch music videos and movies. I dreamed about becoming a world famous scientist, an inventor, travelling the world. I wanted things most people take for granted, like a cell phone or a car. I needed to explore beyond the walls of my eight-mile world. Despite my stringent upbringing, my artistic spirit wouldn’t let me settle.
I was always rebelling, hiding radios and electronics, secretly listening to music in the phone shanty. I guess I’ve had that “why the hell not” attitude within me since I was a kid. As I got older, I challenged my dad. I questioned the Amish way of life.
Rumspringa, the Amish tradition of exploring the outside world, changed my life when I turned 16.
I started straying from Amish rules. I listened to the radio, got a cell phone and used a camera, all forbidden in my culture. I let loose, partied with my friends and jammed out to music.
When I first heard recorded music, I realized there was a much bigger world to explore than those eight miles I was confined to. I came alive inside!
I felt so many things at once…excitement, rebellion, fascination, joy, freedom.
I loved singing so much and couldn’t fathom why it was wrong. Yet this voice inside me kept telling me music was bad because that’s what I’d been taught my whole life. I felt guilty doing the thing I loved the most.
When my parents decided to leave the Amish, my mind was already made up. I was going no matter what. I couldn’t tell anyone. One day we were just gone.
Quitting the Amish community is like moving to a foreign country where you don’t know anyone, speak the language or understand the customs.
I found myself in a place where people didn’t dress like me or think like me. Exciting and scary at the same time. I didn’t know how to deal with leaving, so I bottled it up inside and pretended everything was okay.
Even though I found a job and made friends, I was scared to let anyone get close to me. I connected with some other ex-Amish, but I wanted to hang with “English” people. It was hard to relate because their world was so different. Getting into the music scene was the first time I felt completely accepted.
My first concert was Michael W. Smith. I couldn’t believe the sounds and emotions I was experiencing. I fell in love with live music. It was the moment my heart knew this is what I’m going to do with my life.
Music stole my heart. It’s one of the best vehicles to party with the most people at once and encourage them. I love having a community of people to rally around. You know, something bigger than me.
I feel deeply connected to country music because I love the storytelling aspect. Country resonates with me on a very deep level. There’s something about working on a farm, physical labor, the blue collar life, that’s tied to country music. Country says, “I’m one of you. I’m with you.”
Country music is my story, your story. It’s everybody’s story. The enduring message of country music is that we’re all in this together.
When I left my community, I struggled with depression. I hated myself. I felt ashamed, guilty, insecure. Most of all, I felt so alone. Music played a big role in getting me through the difficult challenges. I feel very strongly about playing my music and living out the “Why the Hell Not!” philosophy.
“Why the Hell Not!” expresses my “dream big, work hard” mentality. I wanna have a good time, color outside the lines, challenge authority, love on people and share my experience so I can encourage others. “Why the Hell Not” is the best way I know to capture the human experience we’re all a part of.
When I thought about leaving the Amish, the answer I’d hear was “Why the hell not?” When I asked myself if I should pursue music, the answer was “Why the hell not?” Should I dream big, shoot for the stars? You get it!
Why the Hell Not!
I broke free from the confines of the Amish community, and I want to return the love I felt from listening to music while I transitioned to a new life. I want to encourage other people to have their own “Why the Hell Not” experience.
I’m always listening to that rebel spirit that lives inside me. The voice that says I can do this. That I am good enough. The thing somebody told me I’ll never do? Watch me. That voice that tells me to dream big. Play my guitar, sing my words, share my heart. Reach as many people as possible with my music and put smiles on their faces.
That rebel pulsing inside of me, inside all of us, that says, “Why the Hell Not!”