Saturday, April 23, 2016

Going Full ‘Ham’ in Avondale Estates

The inaugural Avondale May Ham Fest – chock-full of rock and roll acts, 35mm films and yes, plenty of pork - looks to bring Drive-Invasion-inspired delights to the suburbs of DeKalb County.

TALK ABOUT 'SQUEALING TIRES': Spokes-hog Van Hamlen invites attendees to the first ever Avondale May Ham Fest, a celebration of classic cars, cult cinema and all things rockabilly, on May 7, 2016. 

By: James Swift

Since its inception in 1999, Drive-Invasion has been one of the more idiosyncratically eccentric autumnal rites in the metro Atlanta area. The tripartite celebration of hard rock music, muscle cars and B-movie opuses was an annual Labor Day weekend hootenanny at Atlanta’s Starlight Six Drive-In, where for 14 years, illustrious acts like Blue Oyster Cult, Agent Orange, Roky Erickson and local heroes Black Lips provided rock and roll preludes to all-night marathon screenings of iconic genre offerings like Billy Jack, Zardoz, The Last Starfighter and Forbidden Planet.

Lancaster, Penn. transplants Amy and Dusty Mumma are among the biggest “Drive-Invaders” out there. Before relocating to Avondale Estates, Ga. seven years ago, the two drove more than 700 miles to partake of the early September festivities. “Dusty had played in bands that would tour down to Atlanta and the group of friends we found down here became family,” said Amy Mumma, who is a bookkeeper and payroll analyst by day. “One of my favorite moments from Drive-Invasion was when my stepson, who was about 4 years old when Drive-Invasion began, was old enough to play with his dad’s band, The Pits.”

Doubts about the future of the long-running ode to rockabilly culture arose in 2013, however, when new management took over the Starlight Six and replaced the drive-in’s film projectors with all-digital equipment. With the 2014 outing in jeopardy, the 40-something Mummas stepped up to the plate – literally – with an out of left-field solution. Partnering with James Bickert and Lisa Williams – the producers of a homegrown horror flick titled Frankenstein Created Bikers - they helped set up the 15th annual event in the parking lot at Turner Field, home of the now suburbs-bound Atlanta Braves.

While screening Jaws and The Horror of Party Beach on the same hallowed grounds where Hank Aaron swatted his 715th home run was fun, Amy Mumma said the spirit of the event just wasn’t the same, however.

“We know that Drive-Invasion needs to be at a drive-in, but we miss the community,” she said. “One of the main things we really liked about Drive-Invasion was the close atmosphere at the event. If you didn’t know the people parked next you when you got there, you definitely did by the time you left. And more often than not, you also kept in touch.”

A lack of suitable venue options resulted in the cancellation of 2015’s Drive-Invasion – or at least, the large scale version of it. Last Labor Day, the Mummas threw an invitation-only, shrunken down version of the event in what was effectively their own backyard.

“The smaller Drive-Invasion helped us in that it caught the attention of Bob Means, owner of Little Tree Art Studios,” Amy Mumma said. “He was impressed with the production quality and came to us about doing a larger event for Avondale.”

Means, a Rail Arts District staple who is also heavily involved in the Avondale Farmers Market and the district's “studio cruise” program, said he was interested in promoting something similar to Avondale Estates’ old Art-B-Que festival – a defunct event that, at its height, was drawing upwards of 4,000 visitors to the city’s central business district.

Along with his spouse Marghe, he soon partnered with the Mummas to lay the groundwork for a new springtime festival – the Avondale May Ham Fest.

“The event is outside the box and brings artists and music that you would normally never see at any other event,” Means said. “I think it’s super great because not only is it a family event, but also appeals to car lovers, alternative type of art and music lovers and the late night movie crowd.”                                                                                 
PIGGING OUT: May Ham Fest features a dozen
rock and roll bands, a classic car show, two
drive-in cinema favorites and - as the name suggests 

- quite a bit of pork to go around, too.
Set for Saturday, May 7, in the heart of Avondale Estates, the newfangled festival seeks to recapture a bit of the old Drive-Invasion magic. Much like the old Starlight Six shindig, the all-day event is jam-packed with an eclectic mix of garage rock, surf, ska and punkabilly bands, including Atlanta acts Bigfoot, The Mystery Men? and headliners The Forty-Fives. Dusty Mumma – fittingly enough, a body shop specialist when he isn’t rocking out or promoting festivals – will also hit the stage alongside his latest musical venture, the self-described “soundtrack to a late night scumbag revival" Dusty Booze and the Baby Haters.

And yes, much like the Drive-Invasions of yesteryear, there will be plenty of awesome antique autos on display. “We are very excited for the Garage 71 car show,” Amy Mumma said. “They are going to have classic and custom cars, 1971 and older.”

If vendors, be their goods wearable or digestible, are more your thing, there is no short supply of merchants on and around the premises. Possumdiva Boutique, 2the9’s Retro, Jezebel Blue and Robots and Westerns are all set to sell their miscellaneous wares at the event, while neighborhood food purveyors Pine Street Market – the site of a blue ribbon ham competition from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. - and My Parent’s Basement – which has the proud distinction of being perhaps the only bar and grill joint inside the perimeter that doubles as a fully-stocked comic book shop – are among the nearby establishments looking forward to filling up the bellies of the first flock of May Hammers.

While Means expects plenty of Drive-Invasion devotees to make the trek, he also said he believes the event has a lot of appeal to the regulars of Atlanta’s more Bohemian haunts and locales.

“The artists and musicians attending will be more of the interesting creative subculture,” Means said. “If your favorite bands play at The Star Community Bar and you like hanging out at Little Five Points and visiting the shops, you are likely to love this event.”

Of course, the heir apparent to Drive-Invasion is incomplete without a few 35mm gems, and the new festival features a dandy of a double-header. Dipping into the archives of Cinema Presentations, the Mummas decided to pair 1987’s splatstick masterpiece Evil Dead 2: Dead By Dawn with that quintessential Georgia cinematic classic, 1977’s Smokey and the Bandit.

“As for Smokey and the Bandit, it was a challenge,” Amy Mumma said. “We were told that the print was difficult to find from a few of our friends who know about movies. But we wanted to show this classic that was filmed in and around Atlanta. We love fast cars and beer, so we had no other choice but to find it.”

The Deadite-slaying, Trans-Am throttling fun is scheduled to go on until the wee hours of Sunday morning. And while May Ham Fest shares many similarities with Drive-Invasion, it differs dramatically when it comes to admission prices; most notably, in that the upcoming festival is totally free.

“The city of Avondale has been a wonderful supporter of this event,” Amy Mumma said. “They have a platform called the Community Promotion Program. We submitted an application and they had faith in us that our event will promote and bring people to Avondale Estates.”

As a conservative estimate, Means said he anticipates about 2,000 people showing up for the first ever May Ham Fest. Considering the sizable cult following of Drive-Invasion – which sometimes had upwards of 8,000 attendees – he said he wouldn’t be surprised if the final tally was closer to 4,000.

While Avondale Estates is perhaps most famous for its trademark Tudor Revival architecture and being the site of the first Waffle House – since converted into a museum honoring the ubiquitous 24-hour diner – Means said May Ham Fest, with its edgy but still amicable atmosphere, has all the key ingredients to become one of the city’s signature celebrations.

“Festivals are usually lucky to break even, so this is not about commerce,” he said. “The city is behind these festivals because it brings new faces to the community and exposes them to the businesses and neighborhoods. It’s an opportunity for people who don’t know what the city has to offer to see for themselves.”

Although the Mummas are committed to making May Ham Fest a successful, recurring event in Avondale Estates, their emphasis on the new festival doesn't necessarily mean they've given up on the event's spiritual predecessor. While Amy Mumma was a bit - well, mum - on the details, she nonetheless promised the Drive-Invasion faithful that they haven't seen the last of the Labor Day ritual. 

“We are going to keep Drive-Invasion going for the hardcore Drive-Invaders,” Amy Mumma said. “It will be a small, intimate event. Drive-Invasion is now like a cool family reunion.” 

The May Ham festivities, anchored around the intersection of Pine Street and Franklin Street, are scheduled from 11 a.m. on April 7 until 2 a.m. on April 8. A full rundown of vendors and a performance schedule is available online at the official May Ham Fest website.

Uncommon Journalism, 2016.

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