Music Issue - Star Bar: Rocky Road

New rock currency revamps redneck rockabilly outpost

It happens in the music business. Trends come and go. The old guard grows too old and gets replaced by younger concert-goers. And venues too slow on the uptake fall to the wayside. For any local music spot, losing credibility spells certain death. But Star Community Bar is one such place that has survived cultural attrition, and bounced back from rock bottom.

Over the last year the once gruff Little 5 Points venue has transformed back into a viable live music locale, and is helping to shape the face of the new Atlanta garage, punk and indie rock scenes.

Remember the "Redneck Underground" scene of good ol' boys playing aw-shucks punk and country songs in the mid '90s? How about the swing resurgence spawned by the likes of the Brian Setzer Orchestra, Squirrel Nut Zippers and the Cherry Poppin' Daddies? What about the ensuing rockabilly rampage that butchered the kitschy aesthetics of both former scenes into caricatures?

No? That's all right. No one else admits it either.

But these were the scenes that gave Star Bar an identity in its early days. Even though the sounds and lifestyles associated with them faded from pop culture's view long ago, the club couldn't shake the images of hot rods and pompadours.

The club has changed ownership a handful of times, but this unexpected resurrection has less to do with the owners than it does with Star Bar's booking agent, Bryan Malone.

Malone was the guitarist/vocalist for garage rock locals the Forty-Fives. His genuine love for garage rock – which happens to be the dominate face of Atlanta's rock scene of 2008 – jibes with the times.

Since he began booking Star Bar in the summer of 2007 many new faces have graced the stage, and with them comes new blood in the audience. "I come from more of a rock 'n' roll and garage rock background. That's what I know and there are a lot of really great bands in town right now," Malone says. "There are a lot of kids out there who have cool little bands. They may only have a 20-minute set but they're ready to play and there is a whole different crowd that's into supporting them."

Younger and less established bands such as Knife and the 4th Ward Daggers, Coffin Bound and Derek Lyn Plastic are giving the club a refined punk makeover.

In the past a local punk band such as Carbonas has played the Star Bar, but it was typically part of a bill that attempted to mesh stoner rock with rockabilly, or something that was too mixed to draw a crowd.

"There is a thin line when it comes to diversity," explains Knife and the 4th Ward Daggers guitarist/vocalist West Evans. "Say you go see Carbonas, who are a punk band, and Gentleman Jesse, who is a power-pop band, opens. Then you see my band – which I think of as a punk band. Each band is doing a totally different style, but if you like one you will probably get into all three. There is a connection, and that has made turnouts noticeably better when we play there."

Malone adds that Star Bar's long-standing regulars still have a place at the club. Even a quick scan of the monthly music calendar boasts a variety of equal parts country, rockabilly and punk bands on deck. But it's the new blood flowing through the club that has made Star Bar viable once again.

"A lot of these younger bands hadn't played Star Bar in the past, so the whole place was off of their radars. Several times lately I've walked through the place and heard someone say 'When did this place show up?'" Malone Laughs. "Well, it was about 15 years ago."

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