Little Five Points live music institution is marking its 30th anniversary this month

Marty Nolan (Photo by Bryan Malone)

Sad news came over the weekend as word spread that Marty Nolan, co-founder of Little Five Points’ live music institution The Star Bar, has died. He was 65 years old.

Nolan, along with his business partner David Heany, opened The Star Community Bar’s doors on October 31, 1991, in the building that formerly housed the Citizens and Southern National Bank at 437 Moreland Ave.

Conveniently, the former bank’s design lent itself to the creation of the Star Bar’s iconic Elvis Vault.

Throughout the ‘90s, the bar and it’s modest stage became a gathering spot for the neighborhood’s thriving cow punk and alt-country music scene.

Referred to affectionately as The Redneck Underground, the venue provided a home for scores of local musicians including Deacon Lunchbox, Drive-By Truckers, Slim Chance & the Convicts, Caroline Hull Engel, Blacktop Rockets, and dozens more. Mike Geier came from that scene playing in bands such as Useless Playboys and later Kingsized among others, and even did a few Puddles Pity Party performances there before he went onto National television.

Over the years, the stage has remained open to an eclectic roster of musical acts. In the early days, artists such as Link Wray, Wanda Jackson, Charlie Louvin, Alejandro Escovedo, Alex Chilton, and Hasil Adkins graced the stage.

Later, everyone from Lil Wayne, Killer Mike, Mobb Deep, and Big Boi of OutKast’s Purple Ribbon All Stars to metal behemoth Mastodon, and psychedelic banjo player J.D. Pinkus (Melvins, Butthole Surfers) performed there.

Younger local acts such as La Drones and Rod Hamdallah are still a part of the club’s ongoing scene.

The Elvis Vault. (Photo by Chad Radford)

The Star Bar is also home to the annual Memorial Day weekend Bubbapalooza music festival. Christened in 1993, Bubbapalooza was created by Cabbagetown songwriter Gregory Dean Smalley in the early ’90s.

Smalley died in the mid-’90s due to complications related to HIV. Since then Bubbapalooza has continued on as a tribute to Smalley, and has served a reunion for much of that original Redneck Underground scene.

In more recent years, Nolan had become known around town as “Marty the Plumber,” while The Star Bar changed ownership a few times.

All of this is to say, however, that the Star Bar has contributed greatly to Atlanta’s ever-changing culture and nightlife — it’s all the continuation of Nolan’s labor of love that he helped set in motion 30 years ago.

The Star Bar celebrates its 30th anniversary Oct. 29-31. Feat. performances by Valient Thorr, J.D. Pinkus, a skateboard competition, and more.

Chad Radford

Chad Radford is the editor of Rough Draft and an Atlanta-based music writer, editor, and nature lover.