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High times for Atlanta lowbrow

Southern culture goes beyond the skids



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As the scene has grown, Mills worries about how authentic it can remain as more people become involved. "You have to wonder sometimes," he says, "if it's scene-related, or car-related."

Like the Plaza Theatre, the Starlight Six Drive-In and its signature event keep providing new ways to find audiences for its old venue. Both are curious cultural anachronisms whose brethren were leveled long ago for something shiny and new; instead they're the lone remaining Atlanta movie theaters of their kind.

As American drive-ins celebrate their 75th anniversary, the Starlight continues to shine, under the lowbrow management of a towering presence. The 6-foot-7 Jim Stacy took over as manager after five years as owner of the Star Bar. But he's been involved in Drive-Invasion one way or another over the years.

"There was one year that my job was to give myself a third-degree burn on my ankle with a Lowcountry boil," recalls the red-haired, red-bearded Stacy.

Like Jonathan Rej at the Plaza, he's gone from performer to manager to help keep the Drive-Invasion one of the most popular weekenders in the Deep South. The 42-year-old Stacy, an Atlanta native, was raised in the 1970s on the hodgepodge of children's programming that aired on Ted Turner's WTCG (now TBS): "The Banana Splits Adventure Hour," "H.R. Puff 'n' Stuff," "Ultra-Man," even "Georgia Championship Wrestling."

He embraces a hard-rocking theater of the absurd. The same man who helped launch Morton's Grand Moff Tarkin also performed as the Rev. Uncle Laffo the Clown in Greasepaint, a circus-inspired band he started with Mike Geier. He reunites with Morton to produce the summer-kickoff event, the Starlight's Rock 'n' Roll Monster Bash, a Halloweenish spin on Drive-Invasion. The one-day event, which included Morton performing in his old band Super X-13, sold out this year. (Morton will perform twice this weekend, on Saturday with Gargantua and Sunday with the Luchagors. Because of his presence, the Silver Scream Spook Show was bumped up one week this month.)

Drive-Invasion attracts even more overlapping lowbrow scenes. The hot-rods race their engines by day and the movies roll at night. Many attendees camp at the Starlight and cook out while the bands perform.

"For me, it's the camaraderie," says David Goodson, who attends both Monster Bash and Drive-Invasion. "You look around, and it's a tattoo-fest. It's like an inner-city version of a hippie camp-out."

Stacy quickly shoots down anyone who suggests that the event he calls the "the best festival in the world" has outgrown itself. Much of the criticism came from when organizers booked Blue Oyster Cult to headline the closing Sunday in 2006 – compared with Southern Culture on the Skids that Saturday. Ticket prices increased, people grumbled, and the prices went down again.

Stacy's message to those who complain: "Stay at home. I'm sure your marathon of Guitar Hero will be much cooler." As for the increased ticket prices: "That won't happen again."

Drive-Invasion offers another opportunity to grow the lowbrow scene that's been his source of inspiration for years, one where he's made friends and left his mark. Come this weekend, he'll probably see the Hayses, the Rejs, Morton and Dumas, Geier and Newton, Sadie and Dickie. He'll welcome all the musicians and hot-rodders and dancers and tattoo artists, and watch them rock to the music, marvel at the cars and nod off while they camp out to camp classics. Stacy says that seeing so many familiar and creative faces reminds him how lucky Atlanta is to have a scene so authentically anachronistic, independent and fun.

"Because I'll be looking around at a bar some night," he says, "and I'll turn around and I'll see all these talented people, and think, 'Damn, I hope the bar doesn't burn down.'"

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