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: Hanging Ten with Wayne Foster at the 5th Annual Clarkston Surf Fest

Posted on: Sep 21st, 2011 By:

“Surfing is very much like making love. It always feels good, no matter how many times you’ve done it,” legendary ‘60s surfer Paul Strauch once famously declared. This Saturday’s Clarkston Surf Fest 2011 is too far inland for attendees to ride any waves literally, but with 10 of the Southeast’s top surf bands playing from noon into night, it’s sure to satisfy any lover of the fast-strumming oceanic music genre. The fifth annual event, held Sat. Sept. 24 in the playing field of the Clarkston Community Center, features local faves The Mystery Men?, The Surge!Stratogeezer and El Fossil, as well as regional favorites Daikaiju(AL), Aqualads (NC), The Intoxicators (FL), The Necronomikids (AL), Kill, Baby…Kill (AL) and The Monterreys (NC). Best of all, it’s FREE and family-friendly, so you even can introduce the kids to some great music without shelling out big bucks.

The idea of a surf music festival in Clarkston, at first glance, sounds both improbable and absolutely awesome. But then we never expected Thursday night concerts by some of Atlanta’s best retrobilly/Redneck underground bands at an Asian restaurant (Kathmandu, formerly Pho Truc) in Clarkston either. That got us thinking there must be some pretty cool folks hanging ten in what’s not often dubbed Atlanta’s hippest suburb. Turns out Clarkston Surf Fest co-founder Wayne Foster doesn’t actually live there any more, but this beach party has become a labor of love for him and everyone else involved and losing a few good surf music friends has just inflamed his passion even more.

Seems like there must be a great story about how the Clarkston Surf Fest got started?
I guess it was 2004 or 2005 when my friend Randy Duke asked me to go to a surf music show at Under The Couch over at Georgia Tech. It was a band called The Penetrators. I figured with a name like that what could be bad? Wow! what a show. These guys were like modern day 1960s secret agents of rock. In between sets Randy introduced me to John McCorvey AKA “Eddie Katcher” who plays guitar in a band called The Surge! The three of us talked about how cool the music is and wouldn’t it be great if a bunch of surf bands could get together for an all-day show somewhere. Well, a light bulb went off in my head…… I was a freelance sound guy with a big PA. I also lived in Clarkston and was serving on the city council.

In 2006, I made arrangements to use the historic Woman’s Club cottage, and John lined up as many surf bands as he could. It was one of those Our Gang “hey, let’s put on a show right here in the barn” kind of events. Local advertising agency, MLT Creative, designed and printed our signs for free after I told owner, Billy Mitchell, about our plan. He’s a surf music fan. Stratogeezer, Big Ray & The Futuras, The Broken Spokes, El Capitan, The Penetrators and The Surge! played that first Surf Fest. What an experience. The Clarkston Community Center then offered us a bigger venue.

I understand this year is both special and bittersweet to you after the passing of your good friend and festival co-founder Randy Duke, as well as Spanky Twangler of the Penetrators. Can you talk a little about what both contributed to this festival and what you have planned to honor them.

We didn’t have Surf Fest in 2010 because of some personal issues in my life that were beyond my control. My best friend Randy Duke’s health had been deteriorating for some time. He passed away right around the time Surf Fest would have been going on. My girlfriend and I had also just bought a new house 30 miles away from Clarkston. I was apprehensive about doing Surf Fest again since I no longer live in Clarkston and am not involved in city government. I want to honor Randy and Spanky by not letting Surf Fest fade away. Both of these remarkable men were super musicians and both were instrumental in turning me on to the surf genre.

This year’s 10-band line-up is pretty incredible including not just some great local surf bands but terrific bands from across the region. Who’s new this year and how did you decide who would play this year?

The Monterreys, Kill, Baby… Kill!, The Intoxicators!, Aqualads, and El Fossil will be at Surf Fest for the first time. We decided who would play this year by finding bands willing to drive hundreds of miles to sleep on my vinyl couch, eat cold pizza, drink cheep beer, and work for gas money. There’s a lot of great surf bands out there and not enough venues for them to play. I wish we could have 30 bands and play all weekend! ………. (need more sponsors, need bigger venue)…… end of subliminal message.

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