All Hail Bubba! Why You Should Swing Down to the Star Bar for the Best Rockabilly/Roots Family Reunion on the Planet Every Memorial Day Weekend

Posted on: May 22nd, 2013 By:

Spike Fullerton plays an early Bubbapalooza. Clipping courtesy of Spike Fullerton.

By Eve Wynne-Warren
Contributing Writer

Bubbapolooza is a celebration of American roots music held every Memorial Day weekend at the Star Community Bar in Little 5 Points. This year marks the 22nd year that friends, fans and family have gathered together to hear some of the best rockabilly, country and rock music around, and the line-up is mighty exciting. On Friday May 24 starting at 8 p.m., hear The Belmont Playboys, Hi-Test, Ghost Riders Car Club, Blacktop Rockets, AM Gold and Slim Chance & the Convicts. Then on Saturday May 25 with doors at 4 p.m. (music at 5), the roster includes an even bigger herd of ATLRetro Kool Kats such as Caroline & the Ramblers, Cletis & His City Cousins, and Grim Rooster, plus Nashville’s The Billygoats, with Jason Ringenberg (of Jason and the Scorchers), Ohio’s The Twistin’ Tarantulas, Jimbo Mathus & The Tri-State Coalition up from Missississippi, El Capitan & The Band With No Name (surf meets Ennio Morricone!) and McPherson Struts. And that’s not to mention a triad of surf bands – Kill, Baby, Kill, The Intoxicators and The Mystery Men? – downstairs in the Little Vinyl Lounge.

There used to be a bumper sticker adorning the rear of many an Atlanta vehicle that read, “The Star Bar, where things go Twang in the night.” The gracious booking agents who have worked the offices there over the years have, as any live venue does, varied the types of bands and shows offered since the doors opened on Halloween, 1991. However, few other Atlanta venues have been so inclined to offer as much Roots Americana as the Star. It’s not what you’d think of a swank place to “be seen”; it’s a Honky Tonk. People come there for the music. I’ve always enjoyed the fact that you didn’t have to be a certain age, race or one of the “beautiful people” to feel at home there…just love the music. That is the essence of Bubbapolooza, which was founded by Cabbagetown songwriter/guitarist Gregory Dean Smalley. Since Greg passed away from AIDS in the mid-1990s, every Bubba has been dedicated to him and the Boones Farm toast to his legacy is always an emotional moment. This year’s event also pays tribute to the memory of Earl Maddox, another Bubba godfather who passed away from cancer last year. Earl drummed for a slew of bands such as the Diggers, the Convicts and Gregory Dean and the Bubbamatics, and lately had been a character actor in movies. [Ed. note: read a companion story about Earl here and check out our 20th anniversary retrospective for some more history.].

This year ATLRetro decided to catch up with some Star Bar regular suspects, musicians and fans to give those “Bubba virgins” an idea of what it’s all about.

“My goal for this year’s booking of Bubbapalooza was to have a few more regional and national acts to go along with our great regulars and keep the spirit of the event alive,” says Bryan Malone, who does the booking for the Star Bar. “We have more touring acts this year than in the past few years. With Twistin’ Tarantulas, Jason Ringenberg and Jimbo Mathus, I feel we’ve done that.

One of the things that makes this event special is that it is a chance for some of the older fans to come out,” he adds. “Bubbapalooza is almost like a Star Bar family reunion. It’s the one time of year that we see faces and groups from the days of the club’s inception having a great time and enjoying great music.  It is not uncommon to hear the phrase “Happy Bubba” throughout the course of the weekend. This year as always, we donate a portion of the proceeds to the family of Gregory Dean Smalley who created Bubbapalooza. But this past year we lost an old friend when Earl Maddox passed, so we will also be doing something special in honor of him and his family. The whole thing is a family reunion with great friends and great music. There ain’t much else like it anywhere. Happy Bubba!”

Richard “Spike” Fullerton currently plays with Ghost Riders Car Club, on the Friday Bubba playlist, and in the first few Bubbas, with the HotPoint Rangers and later Kingsized, or so he thinks. “My memories are pretty dim,” Spike admits. “The first one, as I barely recall, was very much about humor and the feeling that Atlanta had a pretty good crop of young players in a genre that was on the way back. In the few years I’d been here the rockabilly/country scene had been evolving out of second rate clubs and into better venues. It felt like a sort of coming-out party that our music was vibrant enough to have a club to call our own. The Star Bar really became something vaguely akin to The Ace or Dingwalls in London, where our group just would naturally go there first and check who’s on the marquee later. I really feel fortunate to have had that moment in my musical career. One of my very first gigs back after work had kept me away was with the Ghost Riders Car Club at Bubbapalooza. It’s a very gratifying experience to come back to old friends in a familiar place, and find you’ve still got something to say to each other, musically and spiritually. I thoroughly enjoy the festival and what it has come to mean, to me anyway. I hope to play many more.”

I then asked drummer Mike Hammer to relate what might be his favorite year of playing the event. He said he had not been to every Bubba, but to most of them. “I became good friends with Greg Smalley back in those days,” Mike recalls. “My memory of a great gig was ‘94 or ’95, I think. [Ed. note: Mike was playing with Caroline and the Ramblers then]. The Lost Continentals were the next to last band, and the headliner was to be Scott Miller and his band, the Viceroys. At the last minute, we were told they could not make it for some reason, so we had the stage for the rest of the night. I think we even had Ben Friedman from Cigar Store [Indians] up with Amy Pike singing something. It turned into a wild show and the place was packed. I think it really pushed the Lost Continentals’ rep over the top here in town.”

The Billygoats play Bubbapalooza 20. Photo credit: Al Laipple.

I remember that. Those Bubba pickin’ party/encore sets are definitely some of my favorite memories. Mike will be at the drums with Cletis and the City Cousins on this year’s line-up. I asked Clete, who just may have been at every Bubbapolooza (even some only known to fans in an alternate universe), the same question. Alas there was a Braves game on and I got no reply. I will be sure to ask him in the middle of his set at the show.

Faylynn Owen, bartender at the Euclid Avenue Yacht Club, booked the bands for the Star Bar in the early years, and damned, if she didn’t do great job of it, too. I asked her what year stood out in her mind. Drive by Truckers is probably the most now famous band to play Bubba,” Faye Lynn says. “I don’t really have a favorite memory of Bubba. I loved them all.”

This year’s Bubbapolooza is headlined by the one and only Jason of Americana Roots Rock royalty Jason and the Scorchers, backed by The Billygoats, one of my all-time favorite Star Bar bands, also from Nashville. I asked them how many Bubbapoloozas they’d played. “I can only say that, even though I know that we played Bubba may more times than this, we only remember the last three – ’cause we were sober.”

There you have it. Come early; there’s real good Bar-B-Q on the patio courtesy of Slope’s BBQ. And try to plan on coming both nights; choosing which night to be there is too hard. Bryan Malone booked the line-up this year and I gotta give him extra credit for doing a fine job and setting the ticket price so it’s easy to come both nights ($10 Friday/ $15 Saturday). Wear something comfortable and think about cabbing there and home if you like to have a drink with your “Twang.” If you’ve been before, find me and give me a hug. If it’s new to you, come join the friends and family, and we’ll raise a toast together to Greg Smalley, Earl Maddox and George Jones. I bet you’ll come back next year.

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Old Enough To Drink: Bubbapalooza Turns 21! Remembering Gregory Dean Smalley

Posted on: May 23rd, 2012 By:

By James Kelly
Contributing Music Editor

(Note: all photos of Gregory Dean Smalley are courtesy of James Kelly)

In Atlanta’s Redneck Underground, Memorial Day weekend means one thing: BUBBAPALOOZA! For 21 years, the Star Bar has hosted a wild and wooly hootenanny of great Southern music and fun. This year’s event takes place on Friday May 25 and Saturday May 26, with 21 bands representing a vast array of rootsy musical styles (for a complete schedule, scroll down to the end of this article!).

Some of us have been there since the very first event, but over time things have changed; bands have come and gone and familiar old faces faded away, pulled by grown up jobs, family obligations or the need to preserve their livers. But like any great music scene, new folks step in to fill the void, and this year promises to be as good as it gets. It seems that no matter what crappy genre of music is being adored by the mainstream, traditional country, rockabilly, surf and roots rock continue to maintain a high profile in L5P. A mix of the old, the new and the unknown makes each band’s set a celebration of the diverse musical legacy established so many years ago by the late Gregory Dean Smalley.

A will o’ the wisp of a man, Smalley had a vision that has continued on, and is now entering its third decade of existence. Smalley was a journeyman musician, with temporary stints in just about every band he booked at Bubbapalooza. He was as charming as he was infuriating, able to carry on a thoughtful conversation with just about anyone on just about any subject, and a mind full of the dirtiest jokes you ever heard. While so many of the newcomers weren’t even of drinking age when Smalley died in 1996 from AIDS-related illness, each year the long-term attendees make an effort to remind everyone of his contributions to our music scene, and to keep his memory alive for old and new fans alike. But sadly, many people never got to meet him, listen to his witty and usually offensive tirades, or hear his amazing guitar playing.

During the last year of his life, Greg spent a lot of time at my house, sitting in an easy chair and watching Nascar, picking guitars, shooting the breeze, or napping for a hour or so. As the AIDS virus ravaged him, he had a medical port for injecting his prescribed drugs, and often dosed while in that chair. About six months after he died, I was walking through the living room when I noticed something under the chair that had not been there before. It was an empty syringe that had just fallen from the chair that day, one of Greg’s medications he had injected while in my home. The day it fell was September 3, Greg’s birthday. His way of saying “Hey, remember me?” As if I needed a reminder. He was unforgettable, and is still around in spirit, and every Memorial Day weekend, he smiles upon his family and friends as we celebrate his legacy.

The social media as we know it today never existed during Greg’s lifetime, and there is no telling what he would have thought of all the Twittering, Facebooking, blogging and what-not that goes on. ATLRetro tossed a request for a personal comment out into the web-o-net regarding our old pal Gregory Dean, and here’s a sample of the (printable) responses we got:

A natural-born entrepreneur, raconteur and spirited musician, Greg hustled and humped his way through life with unbridled exuberance, which carried anyone in the vicinity along for what often turned out to be a wildly memorable ride.Doug Deloach

Greg Smalley was one of the funniest, sweet, and bravest guys I ever knew, and he had a fantastic ear for music – playing it as well as putting together great shows! I miss him a lot. –  Katy Graves

Greg Smalley was a funny, wirey little dude that could play the shit out of the guitar!Annie Hamm

The first time I met Greg – in Columbia, SC – he tried to pick a fight with me, the ‘college-rock’ dude… a year or so later, he was an important part of the band.Walter Czachowski

Thoroughly Southern in manner and mind.Ian Shipp

Greg was quite strange (not a bad thing, I am also!), and he gave John Grant and me (Dos Hombres) a chance to play at Bubbapalooza, so how could I dislike the man!? – Elliott Michaels

One of the most rewarding guitar repair clients I’ve had the pleasure of working with. Seeing Greg on stage tearing it up on his Les Paul Special made me feel like his NASCAR crew. Being in a band with him was just as rewarding. I’m sure he’s up in heaven telling other deceased rock star guitar players how to play their trademark licks.Bryan Lilje

Greg Smalley was one of the funniest guys I ever knew.Wher he played with The Chant for the first time, he knew all the guitar parts, including the little riffs in the background to sweeten things up. He put everything into what ever he was doing. I miss him so much. He made my life a better place to be.Jim Johnson

Funny, unaffected, kind human being!Sean Bourne

Greg wouldn’t just wave or nod from across the bar. He’d always come over for a chat. Still deeply missed and finding his way into many conversations today. And there was the whole guitar giant thing.Thom Heckel

One determined person who really didn’t care what anyone else thought.Faylynn Owen

Greg was completely fearless about being himself all the time, extremely good and incredibly awful, and if you could recognize and accept that, you could be his friend, and that was a very rewarding experience.Tim Lathrop

Played “breaking my heart while I’m drinking her beer” before it was finished on his couch on Franklin Rd. Long cigarettes and intelligent music.Philip Buchanan

Not a lot of pretense with Greg. I recall he labeled effects pedals “SHIT” and “MORE SHIT.”Al Shelton

He was only ever nice to me. Good to me especially on stage, which is 90% of my interaction with him. Generous, encouraging, and a fearless gamer. I learned a lot about not caring what people think: a difficult and priceless lesson for this Southern mama’s boy.Jon Byrd

No matter what Greg went into everything with a smile on his face, and a joke at the end of his tongue. If you were offended then wait for the next one.  – John Thomason

Greg Smalley was everything I love about the south. – Steve Pilon

Bubbapalooza #21 Line-up:

FRIDAY MAY 25
DOORS 7PM/$8

12am: THE BAREKNUCKLE BETTIES
11pm: BLACKTOP ROCKETS
10pm: GHOST RIDERS CAR CLUB
9pm: UNCLE DADDY & THE KISSIN COUSINS
8pm: SLIM CHANCE & THE CONVICTS

in the Little Vinyl Lounge:
10:30: SUICIDE DOORS
11:30: JUNIOR, DOLAN & CASH

SATURDAY MAY 26
DOORS 4PM/$10

12:30: THE MYSTERY MEN?
11:30: THE KENTUCKY BRIDGEBURNERS
10:45: AM GOLD
10:00: CLETIS & HIS CITY COUSINS
9:15: SONORAMIC COMMANDO
8:45: DUSTY BOOZE & THE BABY HATERS
7:45: THE MIDWAY CHARMERS
6:45: J.J. & THE HUSTLERS
5:45: THE SKYLARKS
4:45: CHICKENS & PIGS
4:15: THE SERENADERS

In the Little Vinyl Lounge:
10:45: ATOMIC BOOGIE
9:45: THE WHEEL KNOCKERS
7:00: ALICK GERARD & THEDIXIE LIMITED

To find out more about the history of Bubbapalooza, check out last year’s interview with Bryan Malone and Ted Weldon, Raising a big PBR toast as Star Bar’s Bubbapalooza turns 20.

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Kool Kat of the Week: Enjoying the Ride With Antsy McClain

Posted on: Apr 21st, 2011 By:

The zany font, the pompadour, the Jerry Lee Lewis moves and the video from Hawaii complete with ukulele crooning “It’s a way cool world that we’re living in.” Then something about “a fun-loving trailer park femme fatale.” ATLRetro barely took a glance at unhitched.com, the Website of Antsy McClain and the Trailer Park Troubadours, playing at Red Light Café on Saturday April 23, before we knew we’d found the unquestionable Kool Kat of this week.

From Route 66 to the Athens Highway, musicians have been eulogizing America’s obsession with being “on the road again” since the birth of rock ‘n’ roll. But for Antsy McClain and the Trailer Park Troubadours, the meaning of life literally is as close as an silver metallic Airstream, fueled by a passion for making people happy and a keenly observant sense of humor. A modern minstrel mixing rockabilly, country, R&B and swing, McClain ousted an award-winning career as an illustrator and designer to follow his bliss about a decade ago, first trying the conventional route with a Nashville record deal and then taking the driver’s seat to produce, art design and merchandise his work on his own.

That decision to drive his own destiny was a risk that paid off for the self-employed father of five.  His quirky and original “Enjoy the Ride” music quickly attracted a legion of fans who call themselves Flamingoheads, after the quintessential American lawn ornament, and the attention of such music pros as Willie Nelson, David Wilcox, Tommy Emmanuel and Lindsey Buckingham. The latter two have even guested on some of Antsy’s albums. Oh and if you aren’t convinced yet, music critics have likened him to Doctors Hook and Demento, and his song titles include “Primer Gray Impala,” “Wreck of the Bookmobile” and “It Ain’t Home Til You Take the Wheels Off.” For more reasons, why you aren’t a real Retro American if you miss this Saturday’s show, here’s Antsy…

How did you come up with the idea of staging your live shows from a small, fictitious trailer park called Pine View Heights? You grew up in a mobile home, right?

It was the early ’90s, and Sammy Kershaw‘s “She’s the Queen of My Double Wide Trailer” was a big hit on country radio. That song—masterfully written by one of Nashville’s underdog songwriters and one of my favorites, Dennis Linde—was everywhere that summer. The lyric, “he’s the Charlie Daniels of the torque wrench” just floored me, rhyming with park bench. The lyrics are funny, but they’re also good, tight poetry, and I admire that.

Well, I had written a few songs along the same lines and was just starting to try my hand at performing. I was also familiar with Garrison Keillor‘s fictitious Lake Wobegon and tried meshing all the influences together. Seeing that so many artists take themselves so seriously, I wanted to be the antidote to that in Nashville and beyond.

Read the rest of this entry »

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