What do Shakespeare, Elvis, and electric mandolins have in common? My first night at Avondale Towne Cinema!
This whole adventure started when I learned through old faithful Facebook that the Blacktop Rockets, an Atlanta rockabilly band, would have a show at Avondale Towne Cinema on November 4th. Having caught a glimpse of the Blacktop Rockets at the Grant Park Summer Shade Festival back in August, I made it my mission to see one of their shows in full. As you may have gathered from previous posts, I am an avid fan of the blues, country, and rock’n’roll that make up rockabilly music. There is something about those three-chord progressions and lively pace that affects my central nervous system; my foot starts tapping uncontrollably and I have to resist the visceral urge to get up and dance. (luckily I was able to rein in such feelings for the videos I posted 😉 ). So, along with my mother, visiting from Northern Virginia, we took off into the night on the fabulous musical and artistic journey.
Having never before visited the community known as Avondale Estates, the area itself is worth a write-up. If you’ve never been to this area near Decatur, it seems like another world entirely from most of Atlanta. Half timber buildings surrounded us on either side of the street as we drove in, and we felt as if we’d landed in a Germanic or Olde English village. Evidently, the community’s founder planned the name and the architecture as an homage to Shakespeare’s birthplace, Stratford-Upon-Avon! Pretty clever. More about Avondale Estates.
When we reached the venue itself, Avondale Towne Cinema, (also worth its own blog post), we entered through the wooden and stained-glass front door to an interior of white walls, candles, and Elvis memorabilia throughout. The King’s presence is definitely alive here, and there’s even a shrine to Elvis complete with candles and pillows on which to kneel:
Why all the homages to Elvis, besides the fact that rock’n’roll is kept alive by the performances? According to Avondale Towne Cinema folklore, Presley did make an appearance at the Avondale Towne Cinema in his early years (then called the Avon Theatre). Learn more here.
On the way to obtain our tickets, we were greeted by a nice gentleman with a ponytail, western shirt and bolo tie, whom I later discovered is Tony Longval, the owner of the establishment. After wandering through some interesting rooms and corridors, we walked over to theater to see the show! Giddy as a bobbysoxer at a Beatles concert, I practically skipped over to the room where the magic (music) happened, with my mother following patiently behind.
The band onstage first was not the Blacktop Rockets, but a band I had not yet known about but am so glad I now do; Ghost Riders Car Club! Lead singer Marco Sunset (off-stage name Frank Jimenez) with his leopard coat and dark sunglasses came across as a combination of Roy Orbison and Unknown Hinson with a Latin twist. Spike, the lead guitarist, sported a cowboy hat and goatee and played guitar reminiscent of the era of Link Wray and “Ghost Riders in the Sky” (the iconic mid-century classic song that makes up part of the band’s namesake). The band also included Joe Hamm on drums, James St. James on bass, Western-shirted washboard player Ted, and Rick Price, who plays the most rockin’ electric mandolin!
The combination of old-timey instruments such as washboards and mandolins along with electric guitar reflects the wide range of genres the band mixes into one countrified jazzy rock’n’roll whole. Playing a variety of influences from classic rockabilly to bluegrass to country to big band/swing to Latin-inspired tunes; for all their novelty the Ghost Riders are quite skilled and serious musicians! Several of them were part of the Georgia Sattelites who had a little ditty back in 1986 called “Keep Your Hands to Yourself.”
Here is the first song I recorded by the Ghost Riders, “What’ll I Do,” an original composition and a swingin’ rockabilly piece:
You can really hear the skill of Rick Price’s sizzlin’ mandolin in Ghost Riders Car Club’s take on the jazz classic “Caravan”:
Marco Sunset returns to his Latin roots with the Ghost Riders’ version of “Sway:”
A nod to bluegrass with this cover of the Country Gentlemen’s “Fox on the Run:”
After the Ghost Riders gave one last song and bow before heading off the stage, the Blacktop Rockets set up shop. Comprised of lead singer and rhythm guitarist Dave Weil, lead guitarist Johnny McGowan, upright bassist Jay Murphree, and drummer Michael Wray, the Blacktop Rockets play rapid-fire rockabilly music in which hints of 1950s greats Chuck Berry and Dale Hawkins can be heard. Weil and McGowan write original songs and instrumentals, as well as play a few covers of classics. I purchased their latest album, “Go!” which makes for great driving music!
Here is one of my favorite songs from the album “Go!” and a slower number for the Rockets titled “One Dead Rose.” It’s catchy as all get-out and should be better-known:
Here is another song from the Rockets’ album “Go,” a scorching cover of Buddy Holly’s “Down the Line.” I play this one loudly when I’m stuck in Atlanta traffic jams and uncannily, it really seems to make the cars start moving!
I have more Blacktop Rockets videos in my phone, but unfortunately I stood too close to the amps as I filmed them so the sound came out fuzzy. I guess that just means I’ll have to go to more Blacktop Rockets shows!
Below is the cover Blacktop Rockets’ latest album, “Go!” If you like good old-fashioned rock’n’roll in the vein of Chuck Berry and Dale Hawkins, get it; you won’t be disappointed!
As Mom and I prepared to leave, feeling fully satiated with the rockabilly kick, I noticed an artist’s brushes, paint, and supplies in a corner in the foyer, next to a large painting of Avondale Towne Cinema. I wondered if these were a real artist’s supplies or just staged next to the painting to look that way. I also thought maybe the Towne Cinema doubled as a gallery, since there seemed to be a lot of interesting art on the walls throughout.
Well, it turned out the artist was there that very night, and we found time to chat with him and learn about his art before we left. His name is Albert Guerrero, an Avondale Estates resident, and he explained that his painting of Avondale Towne Cinema is still waiting to be finished. What is especially interesting is that he invited local children to paint in the background, and told them to “paint to your heart’s content.” This approach will make for a very imaginative local creation! Below is a photo of the artist in front of his work:
He also produced the painting I noticed in the hallway that leads from the foyer to the theater: a very intriguing work titled Le Pendu:
At first I noticed the upside-down man in the foreground in medieval dress. Guerrero states that this man represents “the hangman,” translated to “le pendu,” in French. Rather than the dark notion of the hangman as a figure at his execution, this hangman represents a more positive and metaphorical form of hanging rather than a negative and physical one. The motif of the hanging man and the Roman numeral twelve that Guerrero depicted appears in the twelfth card of tarot cards as a representation of a seeker of enlightenment. The hanging refers to a figurative suspension in time during the man’s contemplative search for wisdom, like a caterpillar hanging in a chrysalis during its transformation into a butterfly.
Behind the hangman, several transparent white figures and one man in a long red robe appear in the background. According to Guerrero, the white figures represent Christ, Gandhi, John Lennon, and Buddha, and the red-robed man, distinctive from the others, embodies the Dalai Lama, the only one of the six currently living on Earth. All comprise enlightened beings that the suspended man ponders in his spiritual journey.
If you would like to see more of Albert Guerrero’s work, Avondale Towne Cinema will host his show on December 10th. You will have the chance to view the work of a local artist and see the finished product of his painting of the cinema!
Who would have guessed that a night of raucous guitars would end with art depicting a spiritual journey? It just goes to show the wide variety of unexpected experiences one can have in just one night at Avondale Towne Cinema.
I encourage you to see for yourself!
Thank you for reading,