A word of advice: Don’t go see Johnny’s Inhaler (or any other group that specializes in playing heartbreakingly soulful old love songs) on the eve of your birthday if you’re all alone with no love prospects in sight. I made that mistake on a recent visit to the French Broad Brewery, and wasn’t prepared for how the band’s touchingly authentic take on obscure rhythm and blues covers would be capable of pulling at even the most corroded of my heart strings.
Based on the group’s misleadingly goofy name (a reference to an episode of ‘90s-era Chuck Norris vehicle, Walker, Texas Ranger) I had expected to encounter some sort of cheesy jam band—maybe a wannabe-Ween. That notion was quickly dispelled, however, as the band opened the show with a deep blues cover of The Amazing Rhythm Aces’ “The End is Not in Sight.” The earnest yearning in frontman/singer/bassist Chris Michaels’ voice was palpable as he made the refrain of “my soul cries out forever” his own. His Van Morrison-like howls were accentuated by the tasteful Southern twang of guitarist Keith Ingalls’ leads paired with the solid rhythms of drummer Jor Sutton and guitarist Don Makoviney.
Although a varied line-up of musicians has gigged under the name Johnny’s Inhaler for a couple years now, this particular roster has only been around since April. They’re carving a niche out for themselves at local bars by taking the art of playing interesting, drinking-friendly cover songs to the next level.
Hand picked by Michaels (founding member and main creative force of the group), the set list I saw included songs by everyone from New Orleans legend Clifton Chenier and Mississippi soul man Tyrone Davis to singer/songwriter John Hiatt and acoustic rapper G. Love, a variety that would keep even the most seasoned ethnomusicologist guessing.
Peppered throughout the set were also a handful of original tunes crafted by Michaels and Makoviney, some of which seemed destined to become classics in their own right. A highlight was Michaels’ “Time Drags On,” a catchy, country-blues tale of never-ending loneliness, that for me, rang all too true.
Thankfully the show ended on a more celebratory note, with local harmonica player Chris O’Neill guesting on extended jams of Sonny Boy Williamson’s “Good Morning Little School Girl” and Chenier’s zydeco classic, “Hot Tamale Baby,” both of which allowed Ingalls room to stretch his leads into some Warren Haynes-styled territory. The show became somewhat of a final serenade to the band and Asheville for Ingalls, who, unfortunately, is planning to leave in favor of the open road. (He’ll be documenting his cross-county adventure at www.autotramps.com.) His heartfelt, red-hollow-body goodbye was almost enough to get me over myself and on the dance floor, despite (or maybe because of?) my rapidly growing fatigue (read: beer buzz).
Ingalls will be hard to replace, but if Johnny’s Inhaler can develop more original material like “Time Drags On,” and capture it in the studio, they’ll be a force to be reckoned with.
— Jake Frankel
[Johnny’s Inhaler’s next show is Friday, Aug. 29 at College Street Grill and Pub.]
Green is the new Downtown After Five
Asheville could debunk Kermit the Frog’s “it ain’t easy being green” mantra. Though festive events tend to leave Sasquatch-sized carbon footprints thanks to tons of landfill waste, this may change with the recent greening of Downtown After Five, Asheville’s free monthly summer gathering. (Catch the next installment this Friday, Aug. 15, featuring Peggy Ratusz, Shannon Whitworth and the Jeff Sipe Band.)
Event chair, Scott Kenney, first came up with the idea as an appropriate celebration of DA5’s 20th anniversary. “Through our composting and recycling programs, we’ve reduced our impact on the landfill from an average of well over a 100 bags of garbage per event to an average of less than three bags,” says Kenney. Some of the other accomplishments include: Solar power for the main stage, exclusive use of compostable food service and beverage materials, an alternative transportation option by providing a bike corral and trained volunteers who educate the public at resource recovery stations.
Kenney gives recycling and composting credit to Jon Leidel, the event greening chairman who micromanages the waste of 3000-plus attendees without an inkling of pay. “The amazing thing about Jon is that his chair position is total volunteer,” said Adrian Vassallo, Treasurer of The Asheville Downtown Association. “He did this on his own.”
Other larger local festivals are starting to take notice. More importantly, the public seems to share Leidel’s enthusiasm. He points out, “Once you start telling people that things like cups are composted, they love going up to others and saying, ‘Hey, you know that cup of beer you’re drinking out of is made of cornstarch?’”
— Hunter Pope