Local Flavor: Tennessee Hollow and Johnson’s Crossroad

It’s not quite the weekend, but close to it. A breezy Thursday night beckons music lovers to West Asheville’s Rocket Club. Several drinks and many songs later, patrons will trickle out into the dark street, fortified for the last workday of the week. But for now, the crowd lounges on brightly colored stools, or stands casually in front of the bar, drinks in hand.

Washed golden by the streaming light, Tennessee Hollow’s foursome acclimate themselves to the stage. Seconds later, the silence scatters into the dark corners of the room as they launch furiously into their first song. The band’s exhilarating blend of blues, folk and rock lights up the stage and the audience. The penetrating, lyrical voice of Dave Dribbon cuts through the room, while guitarist Chris Budro and bassist Scott Benson lend a solid, supportive background. Drummer David Cohen’s lean form thrills folks as he sways eagerly, faithfully, to the strong rhythms he raps out with the drumsticks. It isn’t long before folks are imitating Cohen, grooving in place to the heart-pumping tunes inspired by Led Zeppelin, Reverend Gary Davis and Bob Dylan, just to name a few influences. Made bold by the music, a few brave souls venture toward the stage, swaying this way and that and successfully drawing out others.

Many songs later, it’s time to switch gears and exchange the hard liquor for something cooler, smoother and more easygoing. Chairs creak back, dancers leave the floor, and a second band takes to the stage. Everything about them is different: a new setup, a change of instruments and an entirely different sound. Instead of each to his own microphone, three members of Johnson’s Crossroad purposefully huddle together around a solitary mic, the look patterned after a vintage radio show. Meanwhile, the fourth member of Johnson’s Crossroad, Ian Harrod, hangs back with his upright bass; the low notes of the mammoth instrument resonate in the room.

The mandolin’s cheerful notes, plucked by Keith Minguez, draw listeners’ ears (as well as any wayward thoughts) to the region: This is the sound of today’s Appalachian music. Paul Johnson and Chris Oneil strum their guitars, leaning in to add two more crooning voices to Minguez’s. One song later and it’s Johnson’s low, growly voice issuing over the crowds as he sings solo.

This is bent acoustic country, a unique term coined by Johnson’s Crossroad, blending old time, bluegrass, country and punk into one flavorful style. The topics remain true to those found on any country or old-time station: love, money, wasted time and, of course, the biggie: how to overcome life’s difficulties. As the band proclaims about their style, “We’re taking back country!”

Catch Johnson’s Crossroad at the French Broad Brewery on Thursday, July 24 (6 p.m. Free. 277-0222); Tennessee Hollow plays a local showcase at the Orange Peel on Friday, August 8 (9 p.m. $7 advance, $9 doors. 225-5851).

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