'Con' artists and more

Festivals make Labor Day fun less work

C'mon, admit it — Labor Day weekend usually feels more like labor than vacation. The traffic, the tourists — why bother? Why watch the hours drag on in the car when you can hit up Dragon*Con? Why drive long distances when you can hit the drive in? Labor Day weekend offers two distinct events where you can park the car and party!

Begun as a small gaming convention (think a haven for Dungeons & Dragons devotees), Dragon*Con grew beyond geekdom to encompass creative efforts on all fronts. "America's largest, multimedia, popular arts convention" — as the official website touts — features events, guests, films, books, art, games and tens of thousands of fans with fetishes for fantasy, sci-fi, comics, TV, movies and more. The convention turns 18 this year, making it older than many of its fans.

Drive Invasion, which started as a celebration of the 50th anniversary of the Starlight Drive-In, is now an annual festival bringing together B-movies, bands, and fans of all things automotive for one weekend of underground acts, cars, bikes, corndogs and often-corny films. It was launched by local scenester and surf guitarist Scott Rogers in 1999 and continues despite Rogers' passing.

For three days, Dragon*Con brings in acts from all over the map, geographically and metaphorically.

"Each year, Dragon*Con attempts to compose a musical lineup as eclectic as its 20,000-plus membership," boasts Dragon*Con staff member Billy Messina. "In years' past, Dragon*Con has been privileged to host an incredibly wide range of music alternatives ... from seminal greats like Alice Cooper, Starship and the Misfits to acts that were more notable for their celebrity frontmen (James Marsters of "Buffy the Vampire Slayer," Bill Mumy from "Lost in Space") than their illustrious musical careers, and just about everything in between."

Here's a sampling:

With Chick Corea on its lineup, you might think Dragon*Con had lost its geek-centric focus, but actually the legendary jazz pianist is writing an "imagined soundtrack" to go with one of his most beloved sci-fi novels, To The Stars by Dianetics author — and founder of the controversial Church of Scientology — L. Ron Hubbard.

"[There's] a part in the beginning [of the book] that describes the captain of a spaceship playing a hypnotic melody on the piano in a dive of a spaceport bar," Corea once said of his inspiration. "The author describes the captain, he describes the bar, he describes the music. And I thought to myself, 'I hear that music.'"

Other acts on the bill offer more of what you might expect from a gathering of those who worship things that are, well, a little strange. Texas-based Ghoultown makes songs that have been described as "dark western dirges." The group's sound has been used for a video game and about five slasher flicks, including American Nightmare. And representing goth is Cruxshadows, — which as the Con website states — is "one of the most popular darkwave bands on the planet."

On the other end of the spectrum is the duo of Alaskan-born Tania Opland and Eastern European Mike Freeman, who, not surprisingly, go by the name Opland-Freeman. The two play a sort of Anglo-Alaskan world music, and are best known for making tunes to go with author Anne McCaffrey's cultishly popular books about the planet of Pern, where multicolored dragons fly through the air and live in old volcanoes.

Striking a similar note is the Celtic-influenced Emerald Rose. The group's eclectic, quirky tunes can be described as both tongue in cheek and teeth-in-neck, as evidenced by the Dragon*Con crowd favorite "Vampire Girl from Orn."

As if that weren't enough, legendary madcap DJ Dr. Demento will be spinning on the wheels of steel Friday evening. And assorted other jocks will be pumping out bass-heavy techno-industrial redundancy all night for the doom-and-gloom vampires who want to dance the night away.

Unlike Dragon*Con, Drive Invasion sticks more to local and underground acts.

Saturday, you get the Intoxicators, a band that does Floridian surf music perfect for Tiki Torch Nights at Trader Vic's, where they played a couple of months back. The Rock City Dropouts are familiar faces from Atlanta, cranking out straight-ahead rock and roll. Jimmy and the Teasers feature furious electric guitar backed up by bodacious babes. What more could you ask for? Of particular note is the reunion of Truckadelic, returning to the drive-in to bring its unique brand of Southern punkabilly — goes perfectly with a PBR in one hand and a corndog in the other. The Bo-Keys kick Memphis soul with members of the Bar-Kays and Blues Brothers. And Deke Dickerson & the Ecco-Fonics play straight-up retro rockabilly.

Sunday, the party continues with a huge offering of acts:

The Downer Brothers are Star Bar staffers Jim and Joel covering songs about country life in a decidedly noncountry style. Captain Flumkin & His Amazing Flaming Seamen is a band nobody seems to know. Guess you'll just have to be there to find out. Tiger! Tiger! features super hot Buffi Aguero, who can be seen in so many local bands, it's tough to keep track of where you saw her last. The lineup offers punky energy, balanced with technical skill and interesting melodies. (Think Chrissie Hynde fronting a coked-up Velvet Underground.) Rocket 350 offers blazing rockabilly played at blurring speed. Artimus Pyledriver delivers crushing, heavy hard-metal rock. The Cogburns' M.O. is basic rock and roll, but rumor has it that popular roots-rocker Johnny Knox will be joining in, making him the only artist to appear at all six Drive Invasions.

Davie Allan & the Arrows banged out high-octane biker movie soundtracks by the tank full in the '60s, and the group is responsible for the fuzzy yet hard sounds in the background of one of the movies playing that night, the Roger Corman-classic The Wild Angels, starring Peter Fonda and Nancy Sinatra.

Lastly, Nashville Pussy, which was nominated for a best metal Grammy in 1999, is great if you're into the likes of Motörhead, AC/DC and the Nuge. And if that isn't enough to grab your interest, sexy guitarist Ruyter Suys and bassist KatieLynn Campbell have been known to show enough skin to get anyone's attention.

Music alone is all well and good, but you're probably wondering how rowdy you can get. Dragon*Con maintains authoritarian control over the weekend via black-clad, headset-wearing geeks on weekend-long power trips whose sole job is to prevent any and all room parties and other unofficial events from getting out of hand. It's unfortunate, but it's the only way an event of its size can return to the same venue year after year.

Starlight Drive-In, on the other hand, lets it all hang out — bring your lawn chairs, bring your grill, bring your cooler, bring anything but the dog. This year, you don't even have to leave when the big screen goes dark for the night, thanks to the overnight camping option. Just roll out the sleeping bag in the back of the truck, or drop the bucket seat back and snooze off the booze. They'll even provide an outdoor shower so you can wash off the corndog sweat in the morning and get ready for another full day.

Perhaps the best part of both Dragon*Con and Drive Invasion isn't the official events at all, but the feeling of community you get from hanging out with a bunch of fellow enthusiasts for your favorite pastime.

At Dragon*Con, the best action is in the hotel bar, where Star Wars Jedi knights drink side-by-side with Tolkien elves, Star Trek officers and G.I. Joe Cobras. The dedication some fans have to crafting their costumes often crosses the line into obsession, but even if you aren't obsessed, you'll be impressed. You might also find yourself mingling with your favorite movie star, author or artist.

Drive Invaders obsess over classic cars, motorcycles, B-movies, and the perfect grilled foods while lounging in lawn chair splendor. Saturday features a car show hosted by the Atlanta Road Kings, and Sunday it's a bike show hosted by the biker organization ABATE. So even if you don't drive a classic ride, you can drool over someone else's.

Can't decide? Do both! Hit Dragon*Con Thursday and Friday, then slack off the hangover on Saturday and Sunday at the drive-in. See how hard you can drive yourself! By the time Monday rolls around, you'll need the day off to recover. Partying is hard work.