Kool Kat of the Week: Drinking In The Graveyard: Lauren Staley Morrow of Whiskey Gentry Talks About Playing Tunes From the Tombs

Posted on: May 17th, 2012 By:

By James Kelly
Contributing Music Editor

For the last couple of years Cabbagetown’s Whiskey Gentry has been blazing a trail across the Deep South, gathering a massive number of rabid fans wherever they play. Their cranked up “Pogues go to old time Nashville” style is addicting and infectious, and their live shows are memorable parties. With one excellent album under their belts, the band is currently planning a three-night stint at Smith’s Olde Bar on July 12, 13 and 14 to record a live album. But before that we get the chance to hear them a few blocks from home at the second annual Tunes From The Tombs festival this weekend. The two-day event (Sat. May 19 and Sun. May 20) is a benefit for the Oakland Cemetery and features a ton of great local, regional and national acts on several stages throughout the amazing and historic cemetery. The music starts around 11 a.m. and lasts until dusk. Tickets are $10 each day, or $15 for both days.

With the Whiskey Gentry closing out the event Sunday night at 6 p.m., ATLRetro.com decided that  lovely and talented lead singer Lauren Staley Morrow would be  a mighty swell Kool Kat Of The Week! Following a busy weekend on the road, Miss Lauren was kind enough to answer a few questions for us.

ATLRetro: How did you first get involved in music, and when did you ultimately consider yourself a professional singer?

Music was always a big deal in my household as a child. None of my immediate family are musicians, but they are all avid fans. I got my first guitar for Christmas when I was 14 and started officially writing songs then. Unfortunately, I spent the next six years trying to hide the fact that I could sing from everyone. I was always so nervous that I would only play my music to a very select group of friends in my bedroom closet so my parents wouldn’t hear. I moved to England to study abroad when I was 20 years old and played my first open mic there. After that, I was hooked to performing live. I don’t do drugs or jump out of planes or anything like that, so I get my adrenaline rush from performing in front of people. Despite all that, I don’t know if I consider myself a professional singer just yet! I’ve always thought that once I was able to make a full-time living from music, then I would consider myself a professional. I’m not there just yet – but soon!

Photo courtesy of The Whiskey Gentry.

Who are some of your most important musical influences, and why do you consider them so essential?

Gosh, my musical influences are all over the place and keep evolving through the years. U2 is my favorite band of all time, and I loved Britpop when I was in high school. When I moved to England, I was so homesick for the South that I started listening to a lot of alt-country, Americana, and old country. I also started reading a lot of Southern folk literature and listening to Child Ballads (written tunes that influenced old-time and Appalachian music). That was really when I felt my Southern roots started working their way into my songwriting.

What do you think brought about the vast difference between the type of country music you play, and what is heard on commercial radio?

Currently, I think there is a great divide between those of us who want to honor a more traditional type of country music versus the amount of that which is played on commercial radio. Thankfully, I feel like people are ready to embrace country acts that aren’t so commercial but have the ability to cross over into the mainstream without losing their integrity. I was very encouraged to see acts like The Civil Wars, Avett Brothers, Mumford & Sons rise to success this past year. Even the Zac Brown Band, who is very successful in commercial country markets, stay true their sound without writing about “honky-tonk badonkadonks” and “red solo cups.” I think that’s an encouraging sign for those of us who want to honor the country genre that’s inspired us without looking like a bunch of hacks trying to make a dollar on CMT.

Please tell us a bit about the members of the Whiskey Gentry, and how you found them. Why do you think this lineup “clicks” so well?

The Whiskey Gentry really began when I met my husband, Jason. We knew we both wanted to play music together, and we assembled the rest of the players in the group. Jason was in punk bands with Price Cannon (drums) and Sammy Griffin (bass), and we found Chesley Lowe (banjo) through a good friend. The five of us were the core band for a long time aside from a few hired guns along the way. Last year, we were introduced to Michael Smith who plays mandolin, and we finally met a fiddle player, Rurik Nunan. We also met Waylon Elsberry who plays harmonica and lap steel and can write one hell of a tune. Having spent the last few months on the road every weekend, I feel like we’ve finally found the band line-up we want forever – all of these guys are like my extended family. Like any family, we have our issues and disagreements. But at the end of the day, we all understand, respect and love each other immensely.

Photo courtesy of The Whiskey Gentry.

How did the Whiskey Gentry develop such a rabid and large fan base? What do you think is the most interesting aspect of your audience?

Initially, I think it helped that we all played in relatively successful local bands before forming The Whiskey Gentry, and we all had large social networks who, through word of mouth, told friends about our band. Over the years, I think we have made a name for ourselves through our live shows. I’ll meet people who will say, “I saw you guys last month and now I’ve brought 10 friends!” It’s a loyalty that has carried us from show to show and town to town. I think the most interesting aspect of our audience is how diverse it is – I don’t feel like there is any certain group that responds better to us than others. We have fun when we play, and I think people like to see that energy, regardless of background and musical tastes.

What do you see as the greatest attribute of the Atlanta music scene? What do you think is the greatest need in the local music scene?

I think one of the best things about the Atlanta music scene is that we have a lot of really great venues run by really great people who are willing to help up-and-coming acts get gigs in the city. We would have never been able to get a start in this town if it weren’t for a few concert promoters and venue booking agents who took a chance on us, and now, we have great relationships with those people and they continue to help us to this day. As for a need, I’ve been really excited to see Music Midtown making its comeback the past two years. Other cities around us have huge music festivals that not only draw in loads of revenue for their respective cities, but the festivals also help people pay attention to that town for music. Atlanta has a lot to offer musically that’s not just hip-hop or rap, and I just hope the city continues to show that.

The Whiskey Gentry put out a great debut album, so why record a live album at this point, instead of a second studio album?

I’m very proud of PLEASE MAKE WELCOME, and I think it does a great job of capturing our live sound. Having said that, however, I do feel like there is something undeniable about coming to one of our shows. It’s a party. People are screaming and dancing and singing the words, and we want to display that through a live recording. Also, as musicians, I think the live shows really showcase the musical abilities of the people in the band. We feed off of the energy from the crowds, and it just makes everyone play so well. Also, the live record will not take the place of a second album – we plan on releasing our second record next year, and the live album will be sold in coordination with that.

Do you have anything special planned for the upcoming Tunes From the Tombs show that you are willing to share with us? We know y’all love to whip out the odd cover tunes…

Ha! Who knows what we’ll come up with – we learned “Sabotage” in the van home from Virginia two days after MCA died and played it at show that evening. We love a good cover tune.

If you could book a “dream gig” who would you have on the bill with the Whiskey Gentry, and why?

This is tough. We all come from so many different musicial influences that I would want to honor all of them at our dream gig. Here’s the line-up: U2, Loretta Lynn and Dolly Parton and Gillian Welch all signing three-part harmony to every song, Social Distortion, Flatt & Scruggs (you said dream gig!), Gram Parsons (dreaming…again), Weird Al Yankovic, a comedy hour with Louis CK, Madonna, Bob Dylan, Ryan Adams, Wilco, Bad Religion and OutKast.

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‘Tis the Season To Be Bono: Yacht Rock Revue Kicks Off St. Patrick’s Day Early at Park Tavern and Muses on Stepping Into the Shoes of So Many Rock Icons

Posted on: Mar 1st, 2012 By:

Photo courtesy of Yacht Rock Revue.

Shamrock with Yacht Rock Revue kicks off Atlanta’s St. Patrick’s Day shenanigans early this year with the ultimate U2 tribute experience on Sat. March 3 at Park Tavern at Piedmont Park. The event, featuring one of Atlanta’s most popular classic rock cover bands, kicks off at 2 p.m. and live music starts at 4 p.m. with special guests Saturday Night Beaver presenting a glamorous stage show that celebrates the artists that brought sex appeal to popular music such as Rick James, Rod Stewart and George Michael. Then U2 tribute band Uno Dos Tres Catorce performs followed by two sets by Yacht Rock Revue. Drink and eat up with an ultimate Bloody Mary bar, green beer and plenty of hearty fare. ATLRetro caught up with two of the six members of Yacht Rock Revue, Nick Niespodziani and Peter Olson to find out more about the Gaelic goings on and what it’s like to step into the shoes of so many classic rock icons.

What do you have planned for March 3? Will it be an all-U2 show?

Our plan starts with Irish Car Bombs. Then Uno Dos Tres Catorce – starring Bueno and the Wedges. I play Bueno, everyone else is a version of the Wedge. Then it’s a long block of soft rock in our Yacht Rock Revue persona. Actually two long blocks. That’s a lot of music, especially after doing Led Zeppelin IV and Dark Side [of the Moon] last night at the 40 Watt and Sgt. Pepper’s tonight at Smith’s.

Yacht Rock Revue does so many specialty shows from Beatles tributes to Pink Floyd‘s Dark Side of the Moon played in sync with WIZARD OF OZ at the Strand last fall. Fans of different bands can have high levels of scrutiny, so what do you do to prepare in general for gigs that focus on a specific band? And what will you be doing to prepare for stepping into the shoes of Bono and The Edge?

Each of the shows requires a totally different approach. It’s a lot like being an actor in the theater. Led Zeppelin is the guns-blazing action star. Yacht Rock is the like-able bad guy in an ’80s movie. How do you play Prince and MJ without coming off as a perverted prick who can’t dance as well as those guys? How do you pay tribute to the Beatles without coming off as a smarmy mop-top wanna-be? These are the questions that challenge us at our job.

U2 is the unironic one-dimensional sci-fi hero.  It’s not much of a stretch for me to play the self-righteous, self-aggrandizing social activist role of Bono…  since it’s basically who I am in real life, without the religion and millions. Their music definitely gets your adrenaline pumping. Vocally, it’s a real workout. So I’ve been increasing my throat push-up regimen in preparation.

Photo courtesy of Yacht Rock Revue.

Is there a particular U2 song you are especially looking forward to playing live?

We’ve never done “Pride” before, and we’re trying it this year.  It’s impossible to sing, so we’ll see how it goes. It seems especially appropriate to play it in the home city of MLK.

What’s your favorite tribute show you’ve done so far?

Purple Rain and Thriller was pretty epic last year – we had a 25-person choir in purple robes singing all of the backing vocals. We’re all big Prince fans, so taking on that album for the first time was a very fulfilling challenge. And then we played Thriller in Storm Trooper outfits.

What’s been your most challenging gig? 

The most challenging gigs are the ones where the music isn’t the reason people are there.  We’re spoiled, in that every time we play a show in public we get so much positive energy back from the audience.  When we get into some (not all) of these corporate event situations and we don’t get that vibe back from the crowd, it becomes a lot more difficult to do our job.

Is there a tribute show you’re really dying to do but haven’t had the opportunity yet?

Queen’s “Night at the Opera” versus Janet Jackson’s “Rhythm Nation 1814.”  Also, some of our guys have a project called “Dwight Snake” that re-envisions White Snake’s best tunes through the lens of Dwight Yoakam.  I can’t wait for that show.

How do stay fresh while working with classic cover material?

We always try to put some of our own stank on the tunes – it’s the only way to make it happen.  The key is not to treat the music with kid gloves, you’ve got to smack it around and roll with it in the dirt.  We treat these tunes irreverently, as if they’re our own songs.  That’s the attitude that makes the music and the show compelling.

What are your parameters in terms of what qualifies as a Yacht Rock Revue song?

Whatever we say goes.  And it can’t be written by Jimmy Buffett.

What’s the story behind how Yacht Rock Revue get started?

We were doing a variety show at the 10 High called the Surprise Party where we did a different show every week, including classic albums, comedy, our own original material, etc.  We thought a ’70s AM Gold Show would be hilarious.  It was spearheaded by our drummer Mark and our guitarist Mark.  I didn’t even know half of the songs.  And now it’s the joke that keeps on giving, as the saying doesn’t go.

St. Paddy’s Day is still coming, so do you have plans for any more U2-inspired shows?

Not this year – Park Tavern is the only one.  So catch it whilst thou can.

What else does Yacht Rock Revue have planned for this spring?

We’re recording a studio album, mixing a live album, planning more national-scale tours, launching another Summer Series at the Park Tavern, and cloning ourselves.

What question do you wish someone would ask you but nobody ever does? And what’s the answer?

Q:  Where’d you get your boots?  A:  I’ll never tell.

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This Week in Retro Atlanta March 7-13

Posted on: Mar 7th, 2011 By:

Wow, there’s a lot flying and frying this week Retro-wise in Atlanta from Phoenix Flies to Southern Fried Burlesque Fest to a host of pop and rock performers who got their start in the ’80s. Here’s your weekly guide to where and why to get out…

Monday March 7

Atlanta Preservation Center continues its annual The Phoenix Flies: A Celebration of Living Landmarks, so-named after the iconic symbol of Atlanta—the mythical bird that burns and is reborn similar to the city post-Civil War. The event which runs through March 20 offers a chance to take its neighborhood historical walking tours for free, as well as experience additional behind-the-scenes peeks inside Atlanta’s most famous buildings of eras gone by. Today’s tours include The Temple synagogue (1930), designed by legendary Atlanta architect Philip Trammel Shutze at 10:30 AM; the Gothic revival Peachtree Christian Church (1925) at noon; and Grant Park at 5 PM. Reservations are recommended. After dark, Joe Gransden & his smokin’ 16-piece orchestra present another Big Band Night of jazz at Café 290, featuring Sinatra, Bennett, Basie and Joe’s originals. Blues chanteuse Francine Reed is back at Cafe CircaNorthside Tavern hosts a Blues Jam.

Tuesday March 8

Phoenix Flies features the Swan House at the Atlanta History Center (AHC), site of lavish parties in the 1920s and ’30s; other AHC facilities such as the 1840 Tullie Smith Farm and Cherokee Garden Library and Kenan Research Center, which both house rare photos and documents of Atlanta history; neoclassic First Church of Christ, Scientist (cornerstone laid 1903); Hinman Home (1896), now Stonehurst Place Bed & Breakfast; Midtown’s The Castle; a general Historic Midtown tour; and Wimbish House (1906), one of the last remaining homes on Peachtree Street’s once posh Mansion Row now the headquarters of Atlanta Women’s Club.

Splatter Cinema presents 1980s vampire classic NEAR DARK at 9:30 PM. Read Mark Arson’s Retro Revue to see why you shouldn’t miss this hard-edged horror Western directed by Oscar winner Kathryn Bigelow and starring Lance Henriksen and Bill Paxton. Grab your horn and head to Twain’s in Decatur for a Joe Gransden jazz jam session starting at 9 PM. Fedora Blues plays Fatt Matt’s Rib Shack. Atlanta’s notorious DJ Romeo Cologne spins the best ‘70s funk and disco at 10 High in Virginia-Highland.

Wednesday March 9

Phoenix Flies tours the Fabulous Fox Theatre and offers a rare peek inside The Herndon Home, a beautiful 1910 mansion built by Atlanta’s first African-American millionaire Alonzo Herndon which has many eclectic aspects thanks also to his drama teacher wife Adrienne who would put on theater productions occasionally on the roof.

Get ready to rumba, cha-cha and jitterbug at the weekly Swing Night at The Glenwood. Catch Joe Gransden every Wednesday night at 8:30 PM at Jerry Farber’s Side Door. The Hollidays bring on the blues at Fatt Matt’s Rib Shack. Dance to ‘70s, ‘80s and ‘90s hits during Retro in the Metro Wednesdays presented by Godiva Vodka, at Pub 71 in Brookhaven, starting at 8 PM. Cover band ’80s Band of Destiny is in the Atlanta Room at Smith’s Olde Bar.

Thursday March 10

Stonehenge Mansion, one of today's Phoenix Flies tours.

Another busy day for Phoenix Flies including tours of Fox Theatre; early Edgewood-Candler Park; Unseen Underground exploring parts of the old railway lines and viaduct system not usually open to public view; Burns Club (1910), a replica of Scottish poet Robert Burns’ birth home with Burns poetry reading; City Hall; Stonehenge Mansion & Sanctuary, a Gothic mansion in Druid Hills built as a residence but now houses St. John’s Lutheran Church; and the Georgia Capitol.

The first annual Southern Fried Burlesque Fest kicks off with the Atlanta premiere of award-winning documentary DIRTY MARTINI & THE NEW BURLESQUE, with a Q&A afterwards with director Gary Beeber and Neo-Burlesque Revival superstar Dirty Martini, at the Holiday Inn & Conference Center in Decatur. Be sure to read our fest preview here. Chickens and Pigs play Pho Truc in Clarkston from 8-10 PM. 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 Cologne at Aurum Lounge.  Breeze Kings and Chicken Shack bring on the blues respectively at Northside Tavern and Fat Matt’s Rib Shack.

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Weekend Update March 4-6

Posted on: Mar 4th, 2011 By:

Decided it might make more sense to run Weekend Update on Friday mornings than on Thursdays. You can still find out about Thursday activities, of course, in This Week in Retro Atlanta on Mondays. And of course, you can plan ahead for the whole weekend.

Friday March 4

Blair Crimmins.

Legendary pianist George Winston tickles the ivories at Variety PlayhouseBlair Crimmins and the Hookers provide a 1920s Vaudeville atmosphere during amagical Fernbank Museum of Natural History’s Martinis and IMAX themed“Night of the Kraken” tying in with its current MYTHIC CREATURES: DRAGONS, UNICORNS AND MERMAIDS special exhibition which will be open for viewing that night. Also, hear they’ll be serving up special mythic-themed cocktails, including a Krakentini, featuring Kraken rum, Silver Scream Spookshow‘s Professor Morte will be a special guest, and there’s a costume contest planned, too, so don your most mythical duds. Just about to post a last-minute interview with Blair about the fanciful festivities, so be sure to check that out.

Celebrate Mardi Gras early and decadently, or rather BART-I GRAS, with the insane crew of Avondale Estates’ Bart Webb Studios and the sexy and sassy Syrens of the South, Big Easy cuisine provided by Zatarain’s, beads, masks, and the first Bart-i Bra contest where the best decorated bra will be judged to crown the first Queen or King of Bart-i Gras.

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This Week in Retro Atlanta – Feb. 28 – March 6, 2011

Posted on: Feb 28th, 2011 By:

The Retro action in Atlanta isn’t quite as sizzling as last week, making it a great time to check out some of the ongoing great weekly events that pay tribute to vintage jazz, blues, funk and country. Or catch up on your city history with The Phoenix Flies: A Celebration of Living Landmarks, starting Saturday.

Monday Feb. 28

It’s definitely worth braving the showers to hear the vivacious voice of blues chanteuse Francine Reed at Cafe Circa in the Old Fourth Ward. And there’s a Blues Jam at Northside Tavern.

Tuesday March 1

Atlanta’s notorious DJ Romeo Cologne spins the best ‘70s funk and disco at 10 High in Virginia-Highland.

Wednesday March 2

Every Wednesday in March, The Hollidays bring their modern take on classic ‘60s soul, garage, rock ‘n’ roll and obscure blues to Fat Matt’s Rib Shack. Danny “Mudcat” Dudeck plays the blues at Northside Tavern. Get ready to rumba, cha-cha and jitterbug at the weekly Swing Night at The Glenwood. Joe Gransden is off but jazz is still on the menu with Scott Glazer and the Real All-Stars at Jerry Farber’s Side Door. Dance to ‘70s, ‘80s and ‘90s hits during Retro in the Metro Wednesdays presented by Godiva Vodka, at Pub 71 in Brookhaven, starting at 8 PM. The Atlanta Burlesque and Cabaret Club meets at a new venue, Melton’s App & Tap, in Decatur, at 8 PM. Topic is how to do (and not do) a photoshoot with opportunity to speak to professional photographers and pin-up professionals.

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