When summertime hits and Cuyahoga Falls begins its Rockin’ on the River concert series, local musicians flock to the shows clutching acoustic instruments, leaving the cases on the ground to collect tips for their street-performing efforts. For Johnny and the Apple Stompers, it was the catalyst for the formation of a full band, or at least as full as one can be in the alt-country scene. Johnny Miller, a twenty-something who looks like a brunette Kurt Cobain in suspenders and a fedora, leads the band on acoustic guitar, along with vocals not unlike those of Ryan Adams or Bob Dylan at the Concert for Bangladesh (see the refrain in “Just Like a Woman”). His pseudo-punk aesthetic actually fits right in with the band’s fidelity to the Americana genre. The rest of the band is made up of the extremely energetic Ben Shuber on washboards, auxiliary percussion, chicken costume and the occasional accordion; Cory Grinder on fiddle, backing vocals, and sometimes melodica, mandolin and snare drum. And Justin Klimp on upright bass. The band members describe their style as “punkgrass,” which is fairly apt considering their punk attitude toward old-timey music. And while their catalog consists primarily of traditionals from American songbooks, they play them with the kind of reckless abandon that leaves audiences in awe of their animated spirit. It is this spirit, in fact, that turns heads at live shows, leading to a recent surge in popularity for the motley quartet. Also contributing is the band’s guerrilla gigging around Northeast Ohio. Even thought they’ve played landmark Cleveland venues like Beachland Ballroom and the Grog Shop, they continue to play anywhere and everywhere they can, including street corners in Kent and Highland Square, company parties, political-campaign parties and more. Work ethic alone, however, would never earn the kind of attention the band is beginning to get. The alt-country movement has grown in popularity in recent years, with acts like Mumford & Sons, the Avett Brothers and Old Crow Medicine Show finding success, but Johnny and the Apple Stompers are no bandwagon affair. “I listen to old traditional music all the time,” said Miller, citing his father’s influence. “The first memory that I have in my life is sitting in my dad’s truck listening to Hank Williams and Flatt & Scruggs cassette tapes.” The group’s sound is driven by Miller’s jingling, sometimes frantic guitar playing, which is complemented by Klimp’s consistent, tasteful walking bass lines; fiddle parts courtesy of Grinder that drone behind the verses and color the parts in between; and the clanking, noisy, unexpected percussive flair of Shuber, whose washboard playing comes complete with hand cymbals, pots and pans, and much more. Factor in Miller’s vocals, and the result is an Appalachian-soaked folk ensemble that’s as musical as it is entertaining. Strangely, the band has very few intentions. The recordings are simple one-takes of the members playing live in a room together, trying to get through as much material as they can, while the live show is neither rehearsed nor seemingly even discussed ahead of time. Even so, in their year and a half together, their talent alone has landed them gigs playing with some of the best — including Frontier Ruckus, Great American Taxi, and more. “It just started happening,” Miller said. Something else that’s happening is an ongoing recording process, from which the band will cherry-pick the best songs and eventually release an official CD. In the meantime, it’s business as usual for Johnny and the Apple Stompers, which seems to mean bigger and better gigs (including out-of-towners) and more critical attention. “The ultimate success for me would be playing the Grand Ole Opry,” said Miller. Until then, you can catch the band at the Stone Tavern in Kent on February 17.