For a decade now, the Starlight Six Drive-In theatre in Atlanta has been hosting “Drive Invasion” over Labor Day weekend, but because of work commitments I’d been unable to attend the two-day music and movie festival until this year, their 10th anniversary celebration and the 60th birthday of the Starlight Six. For some inexplicable reason, the Starlight folks decided to celebrate this special occasion by scaling down the festivities to one day rather than two. No big deal. With extra time on my hands I was able to meet up with Allmovie reviewer (and Temple of Schlock contributor) Don Guarisco for an extensive tour of Atlanta’s used bookstores and record shops, with pit stops for refueling at local eateries like Zesto and Gladys Knight & Ron Winans’ Chicken & Waffles. Great food, especially in the latter joint, although I could’ve done without seeing the one-minute trailer for I CAN DO BAD ALL BY MYSELF (co-starring Ms. Knight) looped continuously on a large-screen TV throughout the entire meal. I do kinda regret not grabbing that CLAUDINE t-shirt in the gift shop though…but I digress.
The Starlight does little to accommodate first-time attendees to Drive-Invasion. Never mind that the music and movie line-ups aren’t posted on the theater’s website until a few weeks before the event -- what’s sorely missing more than anything else is a FAQ section. Luckily we were able to call on DVD Drive-In’s George Reis and independent filmmaker Daniel Griffith, both of them veteran “Drive Invaders,” for vital information. Their first and most crucial tip was this: in order to get a good spot for the movies, one has to arrive at the drive-in pretty much when the gates open at 11 a.m. I’m glad I followed their advice, because by 1:30 the festival grounds (screens 1, 2 and 3) had filled up and no more cars were being allowed inside; from that point on, attendees were instructed to park in the other theater lot (screens 4, 5, and 6) and join the Invasion on foot.
In other words, this is an all-day event, whether you want it to be or not. You pay $28 to hear thirteen bands and watch five movies. If you want to watch those movies from the comfort of your car, you better show up no later than 11:30 and come prepared to spend the next eight or nine hours splashing on sunscreen, eating delicious but dangerous food (chicken on a stick, corn dogs, funnel cakes) and listening to a lot of rockabilly and surf music. My biggest complaint, apart from the complete lack of information provided by the festival programmers, is that too many bands were booked in an effort to make up for the lost day. Thirteen bands is three bands too many when at least four of the bands are playing nothing but instrumental surf rock (Atlanta apparently has a big surf rock scene – y’know, for all those dudes shooting the curl down at Peachtree Creek). Ten would’ve been sufficient, and maybe then the movies would’ve started at dusk instead of 10 p.m., which is ridiculous considering the line-up: THE BLUES BROTHERS, EL TOPO, ZARDOZ, SHANTY TRAMP and FROGS.
Because the first two movies are over two hours long and a handful of trailers were shown between each feature (along with a Tom & Jerry cartoon), FROGS didn’t begin until 6 a.m., and within an hour the rising sun had rendered the last third unwatchable. Realizing there was no way I would be able to view the film for much longer, I stumbled over to the restrooms to brush my teeth and prepare for my flight home. When I emerged a few minutes later I was greeted by a brand new day and the sight of the huge, garbage-strewn, nearly empty drive-in lot in the morning sunlight. I could make out movement on the screen but nothing more, and if it hadn’t been for Ray Milland’s voice still booming from one car -- my Alamo rental’s, I found out, as I staggered over to it -- I wouldn’t have even known the movie was still playing.
These few complaints aside, the Starlight Six is a terrific venue and Drive-Invasion 2009 was a hell of a good time. I was never bored, that’s for sure. Around mid-afternoon I figured I’d find a shady spot under a tree and catch up on my reading (I brought along the first two John Easy mysteries by Ron Goulart), but with everything from custom cars and dealer tables to the cool movie murals on the snack bar walls and the always interesting crowd -- a peacefully coexisting mixture of deep south rednecks and Atlanta hipsters, as Donny G. commented -- the time passed quickly. I’m not sure I’ll make it to next year’s Drive-Invasion, but I’m certainly not opposed to the idea.
All photos by Don Guarisco and Chris Poggiali