Scene & Herd - Crowds thick
and crowds thin
Until recently, Trader Vic's — a Polynesian restaurant/bar known only to travelers staying at the Hilton Atlanta downtown and a handful of local retro hipsters — was one of Atlanta's best-kept secrets. But a while back, the restaurant began marketing events that feature live music, dancing hula girls and $4.50 Mai Tais. These days, the tiki bar has become a popular watering hole for those looking for a novel and fun evening, simultaneously swanky yet relaxed.</
Starlight Drive-In has undergone a similar transformation. A few years back, it began hosting festivals featuring live music and old movies, attracting a crowd far more diverse than its regular clientele of southwest Atlantans. So it's not such a strange thing that Trader Vic's would host a night celebrating its 30th anniversary in Atlanta at the Starlight.</
Friday evening, a row of cars was on hand (many of them vintage rides stuffed with tiki bar paraphernalia) waiting at the gates of Atlanta's last drive-in theater. (According to Drive-Ins.com, Georgia has been the home of more than 100 drive-ins through the years. Only six remain open for business.)</
Next to the stage, local guitarist Johnny Knox had already set up "Trailer Vic's," his own version of Trader Vic's, complete with tiki heads and cabana mats. Long before the sun went down, the lot was full of people in Hawaiian shirts and grass skirts swinging and swaying to the music of Johnny's band, Hi-Test. They mixed up a rockabilly and uptempo blues cocktail with Johnny's masterful guitar work providing a strong kick.</
The event was emceed by L.A.'s King Kukulele, who did a few tunes on the ukulele before introducing the movies for the night. The Frankie and Annette feature, Beach Party, bored much of the crowd to distraction. But with plenty of people bar-hopping in the parking lot from one portable tiki bar to the next, the movies were almost inconsequential. The film's only saving grace was the appearance of surf guitar god Dick Dale. The next film was White Savage, a Technicolor tiki tale that got even less attention from the chatty patrons — who were having too much fun to even heckle the film.
Since Atlanta's intown population has exploded over the last five years, the intown festivals have expanded. But while they can stretch the festivals over a few more blocks, they can't make the streets any wider. Thus, events like the once-quaint Inman Park Festival have become crowded to the point where they're hardly any fun anymore. (I almost yearn for the days of white flight when Peachtree was a rundown strip of boarded-up buildings with prostitutes and drug dealers in abandoned parking lots. At least you could get through Midtown without encountering gridlock every weekend.)</
But regardless of size, Inman's festival retains its quirkiness. The parade featured groups that ranged from traditional high school marching bands to gangs of people in Dadaist costumes with no banner explaining their point or purpose. Floats from local bars rolled by featuring musicians of all sorts. There were Klingons on motorcycles, gubernatorial candidates (Mark Taylor and Cathy Cox in separate vehicles), the Atlanta Harry Potter Fan Club, men on stilts dressed as flamingos, pin-up girls, a transvestite baton twirler (you know who), a pipe organ, Boy Scout troops, Girl Scout troops, martial artists sparring with staffs, a gay marching band, a cadre of people dressed as comic book heroes, local businesses of all sorts ... and on and on until you weren't sure how or when it would end. Sure, the festival played host to art, crafts, music and the usual fattening foods, but compared to the parade's eclectic participants, it hardly seemed worth pushing through the crowds to see any of it.</
Despite all the creativity the festival had to offer, my favorite moment was when a man, who was carrying a sign that warned against drunkards, fornicators and more, said he'd pray for me. I should've thanked him. That means I don't have to do it myself, which frees up more time for drunken fornication. (Applications for participation can be sent to firstname.lastname@example.org.) I didn't see the sign save anyone's soul, but I hear it attracted plenty of people wanting to pose in front of it — either holding a beer or holding their same-sex partner's hand.</
I intended to avoid covering the same venue twice during my temporary takeover of this column, but when I heard that Charles Walker and the Dynamites were appearing at the Earl, I couldn't resist catching the show. I also feel it's my duty to cover events you should've seen but missed. You were probably at the Inman Park Festival along with tens of thousands of your closest friends. You were probably not at the Earl on Saturday and my weak efforts in this space will not make up for that, but I'll do my best. The Dynamites came out to a near-empty house and laid down a horn-heavy, wah-wah-pedaling groove that immediately got the few feet in the house tapping away.
After the instrumental introduction, Walker appeared and added his soulful voice, sweating and shaking like Otis Redding and sounding a bit like James Brown. The band did a long set of funky soul and soulful funk before taking a break. I stepped out for a beverage and found a few people asking at the door if it was worth paying for the show. I practically shoved them through the entrance. The room was perhaps half-full for the second set, equally as moving as the first, inspiring a lot of people to dance about in joyful abandon. Where the heck were you? And how much did you pay for your tickets for Al Green at Chastain Park? I paid a mere $10 for the show at the Earl and not once was I distracted by a conversation about how well the wine complemented the cheese.</