Altar Ego

Southern Appalachian Brewery  makes a soulful switch on Sundays

"For some people, this is church," says Todd Hoke, left, who performs for eager Sunday crowds with Mike Carver and Mare Carmody. Photo by Rimas Zailskas.

“For some people, this is church,” says Todd Hoke, left, who performs for eager Sunday crowds with Mike Carver and Mare Carmody. Photo by Rimas Zailskas.

The monthly Gospel Brunch at Southern Appalachian Brewery, hosted by the band Redneck Mimosa, has been creating some strange bedfellows. “There are a lot of folks that come straight from church,” says the event’s ringleader, singer/songwriter Todd Hoke. “And there are some friends of ours for whom these little things are church. We’ve got a couple friends who call it ‘the monthly beer-and-Jesus meeting’ — smart alecks.”

Hoke admits the scene might not be what some expect. “Gospel music, for us, is really broad and loose and probably maybe even inaccurate,” he admits. But many bluegrass-gospel standards are included: “I’ll Fly Away,” “I Saw the Light,” and “Angel Band,” for instance; plus the call-and-response gospel classic “Up Above My Head.” More recent tunes by Americana favorites such as Lyle Lovett (“God Will”) and Iris DeMent (“Let the Mystery Be”) are also routinely covered.
“It’s really fun, because all of this music that we wouldn’t ordinarily do on a regular bar gig fits into this,” notes Hoke.

He knew that to do it properly, he needed some musical help, and enlisted the Arden duo of Carver & Carmody. “Good Lord, who’s better than Mare [Carmody]? I don’t know. I don’t know if she actually ever sang in Memphis, but she sure sounds like she swam in the river there,” Hoke says. “And [Mike] Carver’s got his thing — his voice, he does ‘Wide River,’ the Buddy Miller song, and it’s really sweet and beautiful, and then he does ‘Soul Shine,’ and just tears it up.”

As loose as the trio appears, the music they present involves a lot of practice. “There’s one song, ‘Move Up,’ it looks fun and casual, and it’s supposed to look and feel like that, but we really think about the arrangements and the parts and who’s singing what,” Hoke says. “And that’s where Mare takes the reins. She’s really good at saying, ‘You are doubling my part,’ or ‘You’re doubling his part,’ or ‘Go up a third,’ ‘Go down a third.’ Or: ‘Don’t sing.’”

The band is named for a notoriously popular brunch beverage, but with a country twist. “A ‘redneck mimosa’ is a mix of beer and orange juice,” Hoke reveals. “Actually, for science, I’ve tested a few different blends at Southern Appalachian, and the Belgian Blonde is really good; the IPA is really good. It sounds pretty weird, and it kind of is. But it’s a fun little goofy thing to try.”

Hoke soaked up the musical offerings and opportunities of Austin, Texas, for a dozen years before moving to Western North Carolina. “I performed and played at The Cactus and at Anderson Fair over in Houston,” he says. “In terms of Texas music, Townes Van Zandt and Guy Clark were the two real touchstones for me, in terms of songwriting and playing.

“Duke Ellington said that if you play a song for someone and they can hum the melody back to you, that’s a good song, and I think that’s where it starts. When I began songwriting, it was all about the lyrics and wanting to make a point, make a statement, but the more I’ve listened to music, what really grabs my ear and sticks with me is an interesting melody. Certainly I appreciate something that’s clever or witty or funny, I guess more in the vein of Lyle Lovett’s sort of dry sense of humor. I like a little subtlety in the humor: when you have to think about the joke to get it.”

Sense of place also plays a big part in Hoke’s songwriting, as on the southern-culture study “Southland.” “In terms of southernness, Texas has got that southwest thing, as opposed to Spanish moss and sweet tea and cornbread and biscuits and grits-and-gravy and all that. When we moved up here I was reacting to the differences, culturally, reading about the antebellum South and the plantation system and that sort of thing, so I had all that bubbling around in my head.”

By day, Hoke works as a hospice nurse, a job that he admits also enters into his songwriting at times. “It’s funny how much passage of time shows up in my writing. What I do in my day-to-day [life] shows up in my music. I really think that’s it, and none of it’s intentional. I’ve got a song called ‘Spring Days’ which is basically a celebration of the season, but somewhere in that it talks about ‘the young ones play/the old ones die/ it’s all just the turning of the wheel.’ The seasons come and go.’”

Austin was where Hoke saw his first gospel brunch. “In Austin, there was a band called The Asylum Street Spankers that did a Sunday Gospel Brunch at La Zona Rosa. Then later, The Imperial Golden Crown Harmonizers did a Sunday brunch series at Stubb’s BBQ, and that was also a really cool scene.” In Asheville, the hip dive bar The Double

Crown hosts a monthly Soul Gospel night that features African-American quartets from Charlotte, Greenville, and elsewhere around the region.

“I think it’s just the notion of — you know, it’s more than a gig. People are still drinking, of course, and enjoying themselves, but there’s a different energy,” says Hoke.

“It’s like a community thing, more than a performance or a show,” he adds. “You get up on Sunday and go to something, you’re there because you want to be there, whether it’s church or your mama’s house or Southern Appalachian Brewery.”

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