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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Kool Kat of the Week: Getting Ready for a Rockabilly Rumble in Little 5 Points with Right Reverend Andy

Posted on: Aug 9th, 2012 By:

For almost a decade, the Right Reverend Andy Hawley has been at the pulpit of Atlanta’s rockabilly revival as the DJ of Psychobilly Freakout (now airing Mondays from 8-10 p.m. on Garage 71 Internet radio and live at area events) and also for the many ‘billy events he has organized. This Saturday August 10, he’s hosting a Rumble in Little 5 Points at the Star Bar, long the temple of Atlanta’s rockabilly/psychobilly scene, with a great line-up headlined by Hi-Test and including Sonoramic CommandoAtomic BoogieJunior, Dolan & Cash and Grim Rooster, so we thought it’s high time we declare the minister of one of our favorite Retro musical styles Kool Kat of the Week

ATLRetro: What’s so special about Hi-Test and why does their return warrant a Rumble?

Rev Andy: Hi-Test is one of those bands that any other band would have a hard time following. Their music is in-your-face and when you listen it goes straight to your core. They put on one hell of a stage show and all four guys are incredibly talented musicians! If you’ve never seen Hi-Test, then you’re truly missing out.

What else is happening at The Rumble?

A: We’re also having an unofficial CD release for Sonoramic Commando’s new album HANG AROUND [Ed. note: Read Slim’s Retro Review here], and you need to come early to catch the new punk country band Grim Rooster!

How did you discover rockabilly/psychobilly? And was there a key turning point when you decided to devote your life to keeping these Retro music styles alive?

I grew up with parents who listened to Elvis, Cash and all those old cats from the Sun Records days. When I hit high school, I stopped listening and began buying heavy metal albums. Toward my late twenties, I migrated back to what I grew up on and eventually went to my first local rockabilly show, which featured Sonoramic Commando. When I had the chance to start a ‘billy radio show, I grabbed the bull by the horns.

How did you become a Right Reverend?

It began as something fun I decided to do one afternoon. I came in to do my show at Album 88 (88.5FM) and told the DJ before my show went on I had become ordained through the Universal Life Church. Without prompting her, she ended her shift by saying, “Coming up next is Psychobilly Freakout with Reverend Andy!” Years later, Sully from daveFM would add the “Right” part to add some flourish. Now, I’m active outside the studio with my role as the high priest of rock ‘n’ roll getting folks deep fried and sanctified with the help of roots music!

Why Psychobilly Freakout?

This name (and song) encapsulated the theme for what I wanted my show to become. Honestly, it came down to naming it this or “Rockabilly Rebel,” after a Hillbilly Hellcats song. The program director for Album 88 wanted to differentiate my show from the country show, so I went with the Freakout. The first time I interviewed Jim Heath (Reverend Horton Heat), I told him I had named my show after one of his songs. He told me, “You better make it live up to the name,” and I think I have, eight years going.

For the uninitiated, what makes a great rockabilly and/or psychobilly band?

The band should capture your attention with their sound and stage presence. It may add to the stereotype, but they need to be dressed the part – no loafers on stage! A great rockabilly band should be sonically sound, know and love their songs, and avoid being “shoegazers” on stage. If someone wants to start a band, go watch and listen to Gene Vincent, Elvis Presley, Billy Lee Riley, and figure out how their music speaks to you. Turn that sound into your own. Little Richard once told me, “Everything has already been done. You just have to pick something up and figure out how to make it your own.”

How long have you been doing your Monday night shows on Garage 71?

Last month marks three years on Garage 71, but my show has been around much longer. I started it on Album 88 in August of 2004, so the show has now been around 8 years! It had a brief stint on WREK (91.1FM) and as a podcast. No matter what, this is my show and I’m sure the name will be associated with me for years to come.

What are a few bands and performers who are exciting you now?

I’m really digging the sound of JD McPherson [Ed. note: Read our Retro Review of JD’s latest album here]. Holy crap, this guy has captured the classic essence of rockabilly and jump blues, and he’s very exciting to watch perform! Check out King Sickabilly & His Full Moon Boys if you’re into Johnny Cash. His songs, even toned down, speak volumes. Exploring the past I’ve recently acquired a love for The Queers and The Cult. I don’t know how I let those two bands stay under my radar for so long. And if you don’t own any, go buy some Lone Wolf OMB and Ronnie Dawson right now!

You DJ regularly at Mon Cherie’s Rockabilly Lounge (bimonthly at Masquerade), her new Mad Lib-Ations (Thursdays at Corner Tavern in L5P)and many other of her events. How did you both meet each other and why do you enjoy working with her so much?

I believe a mutual friend had us meet a few years ago. When she began working on her first Rockabilly Lounge, said friend told her her event wouldn’t be complete without getting me involved. Since then, she and I have worked together on many events and you’re guaranteed a good time! If you can’t enjoy yourself at one of our shows, then you should be flogged.

What’s next for the Right Reverend Andy, i.e. what should our readers mark their calendars for?

I have a few more events in the works before the end of the year. I’m working on bringing Hillbilly Casino back to Atlanta, a Rocket 350 reunion, and one of the musicians I mentioned in this article will be playing Atlanta in November (his manager asked I not discuss details). I’m also collaborating on a book about rockabilly lifestyle from the past 60 years – this is in the very early stages. I’m lending my voice to the Left 4 Dead 2 video game – you’ll find me voicing multiple characters in some upcoming downloadable content! I’m a geek at heart, so hearing my voice in a video game is pretty darn cool! You’ll also find my own Website launching in the next couple of weeks so people can keep track of my new and ongoing projects.

Until the Website launches, keep up with Reverend Andy at rightrevandy.blogspot.com and twitter.com/revandy. All photos are courtesy of Andy Hawley.

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This Week in Retro Atlanta, May 30-June 5, 2011

Posted on: May 31st, 2011 By:

Lots going on this week & still catching up after a Bubba-licious holiday weekend, so expect a few updates as the week goes along…

Monday May 30

Every Monday, find out if Kingsized and Tongo Hiti lead singer Big Mike Geier will croon a tune or two for tips during his second week as Monday night’s celebrity bartender at newly opened Sister Louisa’s Church of the Living Room and Ping Pong Parlor. Northside Tavern hosts its weekly Blues Jam.

Tuesday May 31

Grab your horn and head to Twain’s in Decatur for a Joe Gransden jazz jam session starting at 9 PM. Notorious DJ Romeo Cologne spins the best ‘70s funk and disco at 10 High in Virginia-Highland. Catch Tuesday Retro in the Metro nights at Midtown’s Deadwood Saloon, featuring live video mixes of ’80s, ’90s, and 2Ks hits.

Wednesday June 1

Get ready to rumba, cha-cha and jitterbug at the weekly Swing Night at Graveyard TavernFrankie’s Blues Mission and Danny “Mudcat” Dudeck bring on the blues at Fat Matt’s Rib Shack and Northside Tavern respectively. Dance to ‘70s, ‘80s and ‘90s hits during Retro in the Metro Wednesdays presented by Godiva Vodka, at Pub 71 in Brookhaven.

Thursday June 2

Spanky & The Love Handles brings the blues to Clarkston-based Kathmandu Kitchen & Grill‘s Thursday free concert series.  Listen to Tongo Hiti’s luxurious live lounge sounds, as well as some trippy takes on iconic pop songs, just about every Thursday night at Trader Vic’s. Party ‘70s style with DJ Romeo Cologneat Aurum LoungeBreeze Kings and Chickenshack bring on the blues respectively at Northside Tavern and Fat Matt’s Rib Shack.Bluegrass Thursday at Red Light Cafe presents Country Fried Karaoke Night with Red Light All Stars Band.

Continue reading “This Week in Retro Atlanta, May 30-June 5, 2011” »

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