Corndogorama comes but once a year, and since 1996 it has served as a weekend dedicated to celebrating the little guys -- Atlanta's independent music scene -- with a great big summer festival. So why is there an air of uncertainty surrounding this year's events, which festival founder David Railey has dubbed "Corndogorama 11: The Year 2112, Stick to the Future"?
The first half of 2007 has brought much change for Railey and for Corndogorama. In February he became a father when his daughter, Ella Mae, was born. Soon thereafter, he announced he was moving the festival away from its home at the Earl in East Atlanta, where it has played out since 2000, to the recently relocated digs at Lenny's.
At first it seemed like no big deal. After all, Corndogorama was born at the old Lenny's spot a few blocks from its current location (back when it was called Dottie's) and stayed there for four years before moving to the Earl. But a press release fired out by the Earl in April hinted at a not-so-harmonious split. It stated, "... with increased success ... came disagreements as to the future of the festival. It was these disagreements that have led David Railey ... to move it to another location." The language was aloof and fitted with a tone of legalese that begged to be read between the lines. But when asked to elaborate, the Earl's booking agent, Patrick Hill, said in an e-mail that he sees no point in discussing it on record any further.
Railey's face is sheepishly insincere when he addresses these "disagreements," saying that he wanted to find a bigger place for Corndogorama. His demeanor is unflinchingly upbeat, and as he continues, hints of agitation are quickly dismissed as he hovers over his plate of eggs and pancakes at Ria's Bluebird Café on Memorial Drive. He's holding a fork in one hand and propping a baby bottle in his daughter's mouth with the other. He fights hard to keep his grievances with the Earl off the record as well, but he does let one cryptic comment slip when he says, "I don't want to belittle anyone. But someone fucked up and it wasn't me. All I did was take back my idea and save it from becoming 'Comcast presents The Corndog,' or some such nonsense."
A long table full of thirtysomething punk-rock moms watch from a few feet away and occasionally interrupt Railey to squawk at the baby on the table. "When I had a kid people said, 'No more rock 'n' roll for you, Dave. It's all over.' But quite the opposite has happened. I am more focused on this festival than ever," he adds.
Corndogorama's carnival atmosphere looks more like a state fair than anything else, complete with a dunk tank, games, an artists market, eating contests and yes, corn dogs. Every year the acrid smell of grease and sizzling tube steaks in the air is enough to send tingles up your left arm before raising a cold beer in a salute to local rock.
The aim of the festival is simple: Have fun. For concert-goers it's a place to bring the kids, the in-laws or just themselves to hang out, listen to music and eat some fried food. For bands it's an opportunity to play a low-stress gig for a whole lot of people, many of whom wouldn't normally come to their shows in such droves. And following a recent MTV minidocumentary hyping the local music scene, the festival is poised to be bigger than ever. More than 60 bands are scheduled to perform this year, ranging from metal behemoth Mastodon to gloom-pop outfit Snowden. Local favorites the Selmanaires, the Coathangers and Gentleman Jesse and His Men will also be on hand, as well as dozens of other bands, artists and DJs.
When asked about the comfort level of holding the outdoor events on Lenny's black asphalt parking lot in the summer heat of July, Railey continues undeterred. He runs through a list of things he has done to make Lenny's more accommodating. He talks about tents, a "pro rig" outdoor stage with a sound guy who has spent years working with the Rolling Stones. There are port-o-potties galore, temporary fencing and he's even lined up a free shuttle service to a parking lot behind Thumbs Up Café on Edgewood Avenue. He's confident that naysayers don't have much to complain about other than the naysayers themselves.
"I'm not going to beg people to come out and have a good time," Railey adds. "I'm giving people a reason and a place to have fun and that's what it's all about. If you're bummed that it's at Lenny's and you're not going to come then don't come. After the show when people are talking about how much Mastodon kicked ass, the only people suffering will be the ones who weren't there."
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