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The Star Bar
Text and photos by Frederick Noble
Pardon the rambling intro. An event like Bubba only comes once a year, so spend a few extra seconds on it.
A lot of the old Star Bar crowd was happy to see Bubbapalooza "return to its
But I would argue that it was the old Star Bar crowd that forced Bubba to change when they stopped supporting that scene. It was inevitable - they got jobs, got married, had kids, moved to Clarkston and other points OTP, got old and/or just up and died.
Maybe I'm more open minded than the rockabilly/alt-country/redneck underground crowd, or maybe I just didn't get married, have kids, etc., or maybe it's because I showed up a little late to the whole scene (Bubba 6 back in 1996 was my first) so I didn't hold much allegiance to the early days of Bubba.
So for whatever reason, I didn't mind Bubba's evolution circa the turn of the century. I'll never forget the finally "getting" Brass Castle for the first time at a Bubbapalooza. I enjoyed the diversification of the lineup. And how many rockabilly acts can you enjoy in a row anyhow?
But even changing Bubba didn't bring the crowds. I didn't expect it to bring back the old crowd but I figured new bands on stage would bring new fans in the door. Unfortunately, live music doesn't seem to be enough these days. Lenny's shuts down the bands at midnight in favor of DJ's who bring in more folks than just about any live act. Corndogorama thrives by making it as much or more about the festival/gathering/social scene than any of the music.
So I was worried that bringing a bunch of old acts back to the Star Bar wasn't exactly going to pack the house with a mix of new and old blood. I was there shortly after doors opened on Thursday, ready to support the scene, the bar, and a lot of my favorite acts of 10+ years ago. In the 12 years I've been going to Bubba, almost nobody is there for the opening acts. The sun streams through the door, there are 6-8 bands and hours to go and who the heck can make it through all that?
So I wasn't surprised to find I was one of 3 people (that weren't in bands playing that night) at the bar when Chickens & Pigs kicked things off.
They reminded me of the late, sometimes great Moonshine Killers - honky tonk country about drunken nights and hungover days. Unfortunately the photo above is the best I got. I suspect the white backdrop played tricks on my camera and I didn't notice in time to correct for it. I was too busy enjoying myself. Chickens & Pigs sounded great, the Star Bar's drinks are still reasonably priced, and even my young indie/hipster girlfriend was enjoying the show. Screw messing with the camera or taking detailed notes. Which is why this is the best photo of Caroline and the Ramblers I have.
Ah well. As I always say, you should'a been there. Really.
I almost didn't go Thursday night myself. I had to work the next day, after all, I wasn't feeling so great and I'd seen these bands at their peak.
But once Caroline's super voice filled the room I couldn't help but grin. Christ, that woman has got pipes. They even tossed out a Sonoramic Commando tune amongst the other better-known covers.
A few more folks trickled in to catch Slim Chance and the Convincts, long absent from Bubba and sorely missed.
EM really liked them and said, "I'm sure you have their CD's..."
"Uh... actually no."
I looked back at old reviews of Bubba in writing this one and was shocked to find I'd skipped several grande finales with the likes of Drive By Truckers and Truckadelic at Bubbas over the years - but then again, those where the years you could catch those bands at The Star Bar about every other week. Slim Chance was one of those bands. He played so often I knew most of the songs by heart - why bother with the CD? But these days I miss that sound, so I'll be picking up Dark Side of the Moon Pie soon.
Unfortunately, this would be a year I'd skip another grande finale, one with an act I haven't seen in years and probably won't see again for years to come, Redneck Greece Deluxe. I had a meeting early the next morning and I knew they would go on and stay on late. The next day I confirmed this with those who saw it. But I can't be at a meeting at 9AM and coherent on a normal day, much less after a late night of debauchery.
|Friday I arrived for the opening act, again with the sun illuminating an empty room. Johnny McGowan plays drums for this bluesy rockabilly 3 piece, but it's the lead singer/guitarist that is the focal point. He can really play and has a great, growly voice. It's too bad this musical groove has been worn into a rut and nobody cares about it any more. The 4 people in the room seemed to enjoy it.|
EM and I stepped out to get a bite and returned to find the place filling up. Ted Weldon, MC for the weekend, had told me I had to see Ghost Rider Car Club, "old country, you know, 4 part harmony and stuff" he said.
The seven member band played a style of country I have never seen performed live, that soft over-produced sound that killed country music for a lot of folks and is ignored by hipsters and alt-country fans today. But the Ghost Riders made a real purty sound. If anyone threw a car show at an old folks home, this is what it might sound like.
One of the members of Ghost Riders Car Club acts out the songs on stage with his hands, holding a ghost phone to his ear when they sing about calling a woman, for example. He also shouted out a few suggestions about where to get your hotrod worked on between tunes. It was kind of weird, but then again so was the whole act.
Next, up, The Downer Brothers, featuring former Star Bar owner Jim, former Star Bar sound man Joel, and current Star Bar bartender/booking agent Bryan.
|It's all covers, some strange and all done strangely. I think I preferred their earlier incarnation with just Jim and Joel, but the expanded lineup makes for a fatter sound.|
The Downer Brothers really get into the tunes they pick, and a lot of them are crowd favorites.
|Speaking of the crowd and Star Bar days of old, how many members of the Star Bar family can you spot here?|
But the act that sold me on Friday night was Blacktop Rockets. I hadn't seen them in ages.
This incarnation featured Johnny McGowan on guitar, adding a little energy and flair to the sound (and stage show.)
|But it's really Dave's clear voice I enjoy, that and the occasional harmonic guitar work he and Johnny produce.|
|I skipped Saturday in favor of EM's art opening. She had a couple of interesting pieces in an otherwise uninteresting show of conceptual art - as in art that makes no sense unless the artist is there explaining it to you. From there, we headed downtown to Art House's new space. Jason Kofke put together a show titled Everything Will Be OK, a phrase used on almost every object in the show. But the objects showed that everything will in fact not be ok. Blueprints of rifles, an air force helmet, prints of pistols all harkened back to the cold war days of my youth when we knew it was only a matter of time before some idiot pushed The Button and we'd all be turned to ash. Images of the 1986 explosion of the Challenger space shuttle helped nail down the exact decade, though the feeling probably extended back to the 50's, and, sadly, forward to today when "terror" has replaced "nuclear" in our apocalyptic fears.|
|The space itself isn't Art House's official gallery (that's in Decatur), but it's a collection of basement studio spaces near where the old Trinity Gallery used to be, in an alley off Spring Street near MLK and Mitchell. The place was packed with young hipsters there as much for the scene as the art, as with any opening I've ever attended.|
|In an adjacent studio, a band played arty music, somewhat creepy sounding - or maybe it was just the creepy surroundings; silhouetted by a single bright light while slides of the shuttle explosion were projected on random walls adorned with rifles and "EVERYTHING WILL BE OK" typed on practically everything.|
At some point in the 90's my circle of geeky gamers got into horror and
apocalyptic role playing games, sort of Dungeons and Dragons meets Mad Max. When
one of the players got all worked up about a particularly gruesome scene I
created, former degenerate SL told him, "It's the end of the world, man, just
deal with it!"
He only meant it in terms of the game, but I think of this phrase at least once a day, usually while watching the news. Jason Kofke's work brought it to mind again, but following a weekend of fine music, food and alcohol I have to think, "It's the end of the world, man, just enjoy it!"
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