Life remains good for Landry

Fred McCormick

Local singer-songwriter Jimmy Landry will celebrate his birthday with friends again this year. But when the capacity crowd fills the White Horse on Sunday, Nov. 1 for Landry’s annual “Birthday Bash,” presents won’t be necessary.

Because for Landry, the real gift is his being there to take it all in. He is celebrating his eighth “birthday” since receiving life-altering news. Joining him onstage will be fellow musicians and friends Beth Wood and David LaMotte.

In 2008 Landry was living the busy life of a singer-songwriter, one who brought talented musical acts to the Swannanoa Valley. Landry helped grow the music scene in storied local venues like McDibb’s and the Grey Eagle, before the latter moved to Asheville.

One day in 2008, feeling under the weather, Landry decided to visit a doctor. He learned that the discomfort he had dismissed as indigestion was actually a heart attack. The cardiologist also told him he had congestive heart failure. Textbooks, he was told, indicated he had six months to live. Or less.

“I just said ‘Oh no, that’s just unacceptable,’ ” he said in a recent interview.

Just 50 at the time, Landry did not feel ready to die. But he was weak, so weak that just out of the hospital, he couldn’t walk from bench to bench at Lake Tomahawk.

His music career on hold, he made some lifestyle changes. Too weak to do anything else, he celebrated his next birthday with friends, eating oysters. Better by the next year, he held his birthday bash at White Horse Black Mountain. He’s held them there annually since.

“I was glad to be alive,” Landry said. “I love being able to do this. I love to sing and share.”

Sharing his love of music and performance are Wood and LaMotte, who have been Landry’s friends for about 20 years. An influential musician in the area and beyond, LaMotte inspired Landry to move to Black Mountain in 1990s.

“I was playing at the Town Pump,” LaMotte said, “and Jimmy was playing at McDibb’s. And I took a break from my set and walked up the street to listen to him. We finished our gigs that night, and in those days in the early ’90s, Black Mountain was completely shut down after around 10 o’clock. We laid right in the middle of Cherry Street and stared at the stars for a long time and talked. I told Jimmy he needed to move here. And lo and behold, he did.”

Landry’s move to the Valley had a significant impact on the music scene throughout the area, LaMotte said.

“Jimmy hosted a series at the Grey Eagle when it was in town and brought some pretty great names and solid, well-known songwriters to the community,” LaMotte said. “He’s brought his famous friends from elsewhere to come play in this town, but he’s also really encouraging to young folks that are just getting started and not as well-known. He’s been happy to share the stage to give them a boost.”

Landry met Wood in the early 1990s after hearing about her music when she was studying piano and voice at Brevard College. One night, he got a call from Tyler Richardson, the owner of the Grey Eagle at the time.

“He said ‘She’s here,’” Landry said. “I was down there (at Grey Eagle) in three minutes, and she wasn’t a minute into her first song. We’ve had years of fun and friendship since then. This year’s birthday bash feels really special because (Wood and LaMotte) are two of my oldest musical friends in my time in Western North Carolina.”

Landry’s friendly and outgoing nature helped Wood, a singer-songwriter who has since won many awards, early in her career, she said.

“He shared so many venues with me and introduced me to so many people. He was incredibly supportive and generous,” she said.

The Oregon-based musician is making the 2,700-mile trip specifically to perform at Landry’s birthday bash.

“Jimmy is important to me, and I’m just delighted to be able to celebrate him in this way,” she said. “I wouldn’t miss it.”

The support of friends like LaMotte and Wood, as well as a switch to a vegan diet, have improved Landry’s health, he said. He believes that his plant-based diet help him bypass the typically recommended heart transplant. He labels as “amazing” the diet’s transformation of his health.

In recent years Landry has become somewhat of an ambassador for healthy living, and specifically the benefits of a vegan diet. He encountered the Bounty & Soul mobile market produce truck weeks ago and felt an immediate connection to the cause.

“I was walking and I had a friend’s dog and I saw their truck go by with ‘produce to the people written on the side,’ ” he said. “I thought ‘that name speaks to me.’ I wanted to know what they were about. They are walking my talk.”

Learning more about the nonprofit’s program that brings produce to people who may otherwise not have access to it, Landry felt a need to spread the word.

“What Bounty & Soul is doing is teaching people how to make healthy choices, and that’s the benefit to the community,” he said. “People will end up not on the operating table needing five bypass surgeries.”

Landry plans to use this year’s birthday bash as a way to bring more exposure to the program that has already reached 3,600 participants in only months of existence.

“I’ve been there (Bounty & Soul) on a Friday and watched a little kid eat something with eggplant in it and watched him enjoy it,” Landry said. “They’re feeding people fresh, healthy produce and teaching people how to make it and how to enjoy it. And I just want to help.”

Opening his heart

Who: Jimmy Landry and friends

When: 7:30 p.m. Nov. 1

Where: White Horse Black Mountain

Cost: $10 advance, $12 door