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Arts & Performance

‘Terrible’ musicians John and Cinnamon Kennedy are driven to save peers from overdoses

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Matt Peiken | BPR News
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John and Cinnamon Kennedy formed their first band before they knew how to play their instruments.

“One day, John and our neighbor were like ‘We’re making a band you’re going to be our drummer.’” Cinnamon said. “We started out as, like, terrible-terrible-terrible, and then we got increasingly less terrible, and by the time we were done, we were alright.”

Over their 30 years together, the Kennedys have routinely put the cart before the horse. Neither had ever lived on a farm or managed a bar, but that didn’t stop them from trying to buy a peach farm or opening a bar.

 

“We were looking for something to sustain being artists,” John said.

 

“We were just floundering, like, what are we gonna do?” Cinnamon added. “I thought if we were selling something tangible like beer, I was like, oh, that’s totally gonna work, but it fell through, and in hindsight we would have been the worst bar owners. We just don’t have any business sense. I’m very glad that didn’t work out.”

The Kennedys are far more committed to their latest cause—preventing deaths by drug overdoses, particularly among musicians. They’re marshaling connections to clubs, breweries and other venues that hire local musicians to have either nasal sprays or injectable versions of naloxone on hand.

“It became so obvious with that venn diagram of overdose-musicians-recovery-harm reduction and the fact there was no one there being like, ‘alright, every music venue in Asheville, Buncombe County and Western North Carolina should carry naloxone,’” John said. “It’s crazy it hasn’t happened before.”

The Kennedys met 30 years ago at tiny Kenyon College in Ohio, where Cinnamon recalls working at a pub where John skipped out on a bar tab. They wanted to be writers, moved to New York, launched a literary journal and took writing courses at New York University.

“I guess at some point, maybe at 40, when what we talked about and shared was no longer literature or books or novels or documentaries. It was always music—what’s the next song, have you heard this song, hey I just heard this song, you should check out this song,” John recalled. “We just found ourselves, at least for me, always talking about music, until it became the most prevalent art form between us.”

The Kennedys remember ash from 9/11 reaching their Manhattan apartment. With two young children, they decided to move to Black Mountain 20 years ago, into a house next to Cinnamon’s parents. Cinnamon taught yoga. John spent several years writing for the Black Mountain News. Both helped John’s stepmother build a video production company, which John still works for.

“She didn’t know anything about video production production and we didn’t know anything about video production, and we just started it,” Cinnamon said. 

With just as much preparation, they decided to form a band that became known as the Egg Eaters. They put up wheat paste posters about the band long before booking a show. 

“We had smoke machines and bubble machines, Silly String, Teletubbie costumes, robot costumes, all this bananas, over-the-top stuff,” John said. “Which I think was kind of a disguise for the fact we were not good musicians.”

With John on rhythm guitar and Cinnamon behind the drums, the Egg Eaters wound up playing about 100 gigs in and around Asheville over eight years.

“In the beginning, I thought that was an asset, because we were like ‘We’re the worst band you’ve ever heard,’ and people were like ‘Yes you are,’” Cinnamon said. “Being bad was easy, like toward the middle, when we got kind of not good but not bad, that was tough.”

“When we got good, the members of the band all were like ‘It should sound like this or it should sound like this.’” John said. “It was important.”

John Kennedy said the overdosing issue hit close to home in 2010, when he rode in an ambulance with a brother who had overdosed. They noticed overdoses growing in the local music community and decided to become practical activists, declaring themselves agnostic on drug use, itself. As a nonprofit called Musicians for Overdose Prevention, they raise money through grants and grassroots fundraising for the naloxone kits, which can cost about $80 apiece.

 

More than 96,000 people die each year in the U.S. from drug overdoses, according to the National Center for Drug Abuse Statistics.

“Among the musicians that we know, I’m pretty sure that most of them know someone who’s died and know someone who’s in danger,” Cinnamon said. “And that’s why we’re doing this, for people who are just so worried about their friends.”

While many venues embraced their mission, the Kennedys said a few were deflective or resistant.

“Some of them were scared. Some of them didn’t return our calls or emails,” Cinnamon said. “They don’t want people to think that people are doing drugs in their establishment. I think it came down to a public image thing.”

So far, the Kennedys’ have distributed about 300 naloxone kits. Their goal for 2022: In their words, taking down Big Pharma.

 

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