Johnson Family Brings the Funk at Brothers Drake

By: Colin Aldridge

Last night at the Brothers Drake Meadery, Johnson Family Funk played a set with special guest the Jenny Flory Band. I got there early and made conversation with a few people. They were all excited for the night ahead and none of them would end up disappointed. There were not many of us there at 9 p.m., but soon it was crowded with people who, at the end of the week, were ready to drink, dance and let the music move them.

An hour or so later, the Jenny Flory Band took the stage. The band consists of Flory on acoustic guitar, along with Ben ‘Silky’ Johnson on bass, Donny J on drums and Faheem Najieb on sax. It started off with smooth jazz renditions of “I Wanna Be Ur Lover” and “Little Red Corvette” by Prince – the latter of which included backing vocals from the audience and started what would be a late night of dancing. The band also covered a few songs by Ms. Lauryn Hill, Stevie Wonder and Amy Winehouse. Winehouse is particular was a bold move, but Flory has a powerful voice, and she was convincing in every genre she pulled from.

 Photo by Colin Aldridge. 

Photo by Colin Aldridge. 

Some of the high points of the group’s set included its take on two ‘90s pop songs – “Torn” by Natalie Imbruglia, which set the building aflame with movement, and Alanis Morissette’s infamous “Ironic,” which, ironically, was not performed with any irony at all. It was entirely genuine and did a great service to the often-misunderstood Morissette. It was during “Ironic” that the band turned inward towards each other for an extended jam. They are all excellent musicians and they were clearly having a blast. So were we.

The set ended with an original song, “Make a Change,” which seemed like a song meant for our troubled times. “It’s time for me to claim what’s mine,” Flory sung, giving us an anthem for taking control in the midst of our distressing political and social climate. The band said goodnight but performed an encore – Christina Aguilera’s “Genie in a Bottle.”

Then came a break between acts. The lights were down low and the bar was now crowded. I was in constant movements forward and backward, dodging passerby on their way to the bathrooms. I had nowhere to put my jacket, and it was getting quite warm. I kept it on. The crowd was a sea of faces illuminated by cell phones, blue hazy faces pointed downward, waiting for Johnson Family Funk to come onstage.

When the band started to set up, I was surprised to see that Johnson, Donny J and Najieb were in this band as well; the Johnson in the name comes from Silky. They were joined by Max Marsillo on auxiliary drums and DJ Abyss, AKA Cosmo Johnson, AKA Jonathan Welles.

Abyss started a beat going. After a few cycles, Johnson added a bass line. It went perfectly with the beat and also somehow changed it. Donny J came in on the drums, then Marsillo. Finally, Najieb added an amazing sax solo. They all built together into song, and then they stopped.

“That was just a sound check,” says Abyss. “So, if you liked that… get ready.”

This is how the musicians constructed every song. Abyss conducted the others, pushing and pulling them in and out of different grooves. He pointed, lifted his hands palms up or snatched the air. Sometimes he shouted his direction out. “Go soft on this one,” he said to Najieb at one point, and Najieb played softly and beautifully. Even under direction, each band member brought their own skills to the group. Each one seemed completely free from restraint, free to experiment, free to explore. Each got multiple moments to shine during solos, and each performed exceptionally well. The best moments were when the band was so engrossed in the music that the members forgot we were there and transcended into that special place that only music can take us. They went there, and they took us with them.

In a way, this night was a perfect example of what is so beautiful about Columbus music. It is completely genre-less. At no point did any songs from either band seem out of place, whether it was the Jenny Flory Band playing John Lennon’s “Jealous Guy” or Johnson Family Funk rapping a love song to pot, it all seemed connected and without boundaries. There are no little boxes for this stuff to fit in, which is what makes it perfect for Columbus.