A year after Dave Brown and Rob Ondrish became owners of the Melody Inn, Zorba Rose (he of the hillbilly blues band the Drunken Deacons), proposed holding a weekly musical hoedown at their place. “Rob and I decided to go with it, and ever since, it’s taken on a life of its own!” Brown remembers.
Six years later, the Hillbilly Happy Hour is still going strong. The weekly serving of country music kicks off at 7:30 p.m. every Friday night at the Melody Inn.
Kimmy Grissom, aka Miss Kimmy, is a Hillbilly regular; she’s been coming to the Melody for years, first as a patron, then as a musician.
“Back then I was a middle school English teacher,” Grissom recalls. “On Friday nights, I would go to the Mel, have a few cocktails and grade papers while listening to the bands.”
A singer/musician herself, Miss Kimmy remembers being at the Melody Inn when the Hillbilly Happy Hour nights began. She soon found herself attracted to a member of the night’s featured act, the Drunken Deacons.
“I enjoy hanging out with people who write their own songs,” Miss Kimmy says. “And Rob [Brown] told me I needed to come see the Drunken Deacons. Well, I came to the Mel one Friday night to check them out, and that’s how I met my husband Zorba. He was the band’s bass player, and I thought that he was really cute.”
Miss Kimmy eventually became the singer for the Drunken Deacons, and later, along with Zorba, went on to front another band, the Tumbleweeds. While they have played in various venues and music festivals through the years, Miss Kimmy and Zorba are proud to call the Melody Inn their “home away from home.”
“We’ve played the Melody Inn more than anyplace else, and we consider the Hillbilly Happy Hour a true labor of love,” Miss Kimmy says.
When it’s their turn to headline the Hillbilly Happy Hour, Miss Kimmy and Zorba offer originals and covers with a sound that mixes Johnny and June Carter Cash, Patsy Cline, traditional bluegrass and Irish punk.
Whether it’s a story about her dealings with an auto repair shop in Kokomo or having only a piece of wood to scrape ice off of her car windows, the outgoing Miss Kimmy breaks down any possible barriers between the duo and their audience. And the crowd returns the favor by yelling out requests, inside jokes and comments throughout the show.
“I enjoy talking to people, and when I’m on stage with people out in front of me, I try to make them a part of the show!” Miss Kimmy says.
In the beginning, Zorba’s band the Drunken Deacons were the featured band of the evening. These days, the monthly schedule looks something like this: Stockwell Road (outlaw country) on the first Friday of the month; Miss Kimmy and Zorba (alt country), second Friday; Punkin Holler Boys (hillbilly country), third Friday; Cousin Brothers (“high energy” bluegrass) with Miss Kimmy and Zorba, fourth Friday; and Deacon Sean and the Bar Brawlers (heavy/alt country), fifth Friday.
Of course, there’s always room for new performers. In addition to Miss Kimmy and Zorba, the second Friday of each month features other bands that meet the requirements necessary to be a part of a Hillbilly Happy Hour.
“As long as the band’s sound has a country flavor and feel, then they will be considered for a spot on the second Friday night Hillbilly Happy Hour,” Brown says. “Any band interested in auditioning for a slot can send us a demo CD or contact us via e-mail at our Web site, www.melodyindy.com.”
Tom Young and the New Heretics is one of the bands that have broken into that monthly Happy Hour schedule. Young first played at the Melody Inn in the late ’90s and looked forward to the opportunity to return to the storied venue’s stage.
“The room is the same as when I played here the last time, I’m happy to say,” Young recalls. “My band got back together a few years ago, and we recently received an e-mail asking if we’d like to play here. It’s a fun place to play our music.”