In a way we’re all standing at the edge of a stage. When we meet someone, like singing into a microphone, we share our stories to know one other. Shake that with ambition and talent and many people turn those stories into melodies.

The Down Home stage in Johnson City has been a regional oracle since 1976. From the outside it looks like a run-down pool hall, but inside there’s a sanctuary surrounded by natural wood paneling that musicians dream of playing. Not that the audiences are significant; the place is actually small with regard to other local venues. The reason why so many players share this dream are clearly the ones that have performed on this stage in the past.

Down Home has welcomed many of music’s greatest legends, but something special happens every Wednesday as they present the “Open Hoot.” Instead of a single performer, this weekly event features entertainers from all over the region who share a musical variety show and you never know what to expect.

Our night began with a young bluegrass band entering during a set change wrestling with an upright bass and a few small pieces of gear. With focused anticipation and a few tuning notes, Amantha Mill, a band from Boone, N.C., greeted the audience politely and mentioned they had always dreamed of playing the Down Home.

Becca Eggers-Gryder is the lead vocalist and upright bassist and her grandmother is the band’s namesake. When she began plucking the upright and singing “Love Put A Good Man In The Grave” you could immediately tell this woman is all about the music. Becca has a bold beautiful voice that blends well with the other players and she fronts a true Appalachian delicacy.

The band’s Web site mentions that Tony Rice, on dobro, is “the icing on the cake.” That’s true too because his expertise added more soul to the traditional sound of bluegrass.

Jonathan Maness plays mandolin with the group and he is also a student at Appy State. Although he looks like he’s barely out of high school, his quick stroke on his chest proves that he has what it takes to be a legend. He sang with Bill Helm on guitar and together they gave us a delightful night of original blue grass peppered with Western swing. One of their songs, a version of “Kiss Me Mother” from the “O’ Brother Where Art Thou?” soundtrack, left the audience suspended with attention on their last notes.

Next, a group of 15 Irish exchange students performed songs on Appalachian instruments they had learned to play over the past eight weeks. I’ll admit the Irish drinking songs were interesting, but my amusement waned early because I was hear to witness the return of Michael Cody.

Dr. Michael Cody is an English professor at ETSU. He taught poetry last semester and used to write songs professionally for the Gary Morris agency in Nashville. Since then he got married, earned his doctorate, started a family and tonight was his first time on stage in ten years.

This detour has sculpted two talents in this local songwriter. First, he has an excellent singing voice that is warm and sincere. With a bit more confidence and his natural wit he will receive the respect of any live audience. More importantly, his songs are striking and elevate him as a troubadour you will most certainly enjoy.

As a poet and songwriter, Cody meets his audience with charm and open range sophistication. It’s hard not to pay attention to the carved beauty in his songs. What’s most surprising is the fact that he performs ballads. That’s something we rarely hear from any stage these days.

One of my favorite songs, “To The Moon Alice” is a play on words from Ralph Kramden of “The Honeymooners” sitcom from the ’50s. The lyrics from Michael’s Web site paint the picture better than my words.

    “Alice and Harry got married when maybe breaking up might have been the better thing to do.

    “Granted they had their moments, but in the big picture those moments were too few.”

Michael Cody is a refreshing new songwriter whose music is alluring in its perfection. His stories from the mic are an enjoy able experience from any venue in the Tri-Cities. And for a little serendipity, don’t forget about Open Hoot, Wednesdays at Down Home on Main Street in Johnson City.

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Relevant Links
Down Home —
Amantha Hill —
Michael Cody —


David Cate is director of new media for the GoTriCities Network. E-mail comments or tips for The Buzz to him at