Perform Farewell Concert at Canal Street Tavern
By Kyle Melton
For the ever-revolving cast of Austin’s Asylum Street Spankers, the ability to function in a volatile music industry has been no small challenge. Fusing traditional folk, bluegrass and country influences with a healthy dose of humor and satire, the Asylum Street Spankers have earned a devout following as they’ve flown in the face of industry conventions.
As the sole constant throughout the band’s 17-year run, vocalist/musical director Christina Marrs finally decided this year to pull the plug and take the Asylum Street Spankers around on a final farewell tour. We spoke with Marrs about the band’s final tour, their challenges of the comings and goings of its 50 members, and the band’s musical legacy.
Dayton City Paper: Being the only founding member of Asylum St. Spankers still standing, how do you account for the band’s success/appeal over nearly two decades?
Christina Marrs: I think there’s always been a little something for everybody in the Spankers’ music and performances. It’s different enough that it’s not something that people encounter everyday. Who can account for such a marginally commercial band being able to sustain itself for this long? Part of it must be luck and part of it must be the sheer tenacity of our collective will to make it work. We have great fans and we put on a great show. People really enjoy themselves at our shows; they have fun, they laugh and when people have such a positive association with an experience and fond memories of good times had, they’re likely to come back for more.
DCP: Why the decision to pull the plug on the band at this juncture?
CM: The decision to pack it up now is largely financial. The economy has kicked our ass like everyone else’s and it’s rough being a touring band right now. The industry-wide shift away from CDs and toward digital downloads has impacted us big-time. CD sales are a touring band’s bread and butter and people aren’t buying as many anymore. When being a touring musician was supporting my family, it was one thing. But when you’re barely making ends meet, you have to assess whether or not it’s worth spending 150 days a year away from your family. Ultimately, we decided we’d had a really great run but it was a good time to wrap it up.
DCP: With over 50 members having come and gone through the band’s ranks throughout its duration, how have you been able to maintain a sense of consistency throughout the years? Why do you think the band has experienced such high turnover?
CM: We always manage to find the right people, I guess. Having roughly the same instrumentation throughout the years has helped us to maintain the same sound, with subtle variations. I think the size of the band and the amount of time we spend on the road has contributed to our high turnover. People leave the band for myriad reasons, but I guess the most common reasons are burn-out and a wife or girlfriend at home who’s tired of their partner being gone all the time. Either that or we’re just extremely difficult people to work for.
DCP: Over the years, your appearances at Canal Street Tavern have become celebrated local shows. How does Canal Street Tavern figure into the band’s story as a venue/experience? How important was it to you to include CST on the touring route for this farewell tour?
CM: Canal Street Tavern is the only venue we’ve ever played in Dayton, and to be honest, besides there and the Day’s Inn up the road, I don’t think I’ve seen a lot of the town. We’ve been playing a show around Thanksgiving time there for 13 years now and it’s just become a sort of unofficial tradition. There was no way we would pass up Dayton on the farewell tours.
DCP: In saying goodbye to an experience that has lasted nearly two decades, how difficult will it be for you to walk away from this band? What’s next for you and for the rest of the Spankers?
CM: I thought it would be harder to walk away, but I guess it’s just time. It’s a little bittersweet, but I’m also looking forward to new musical experiences, and with the Spankers occupying so much of my time for so many years, it’s been difficult to even think about other musical avenues I would like to explore. We’ll all still be playing music.
DCP: What do you feel/hope the band’s legacy will be? How would you like the band to be remembered?
CM: As far as our legacy, I would love it if the band suddenly got really famous years after we’ve broken up. I think it would be awesome to see teenagers 15 years from now sporting bootleg Spankers’ t-shirts.
DCP: Any “last words” on the Asylum Street Spankers farewell tour?
CM: It’s been really kind of overwhelming saying goodbye. I’ve been really touched by the outpouring of gratitude and warm wishes from our fans.
The Asylum Street Spankers will make their final appearance at Canal Street Tavern on Saturday, November 20. Opening the evening will be Danielle Ate the Sandwich. Tickets are $20 in advance/DOS for 18 & up. Doors open at 8 p.m. For more information, visit www.asylumstreetspankers.com.
Reach DCP freelance writer Kyle Melton at firstname.lastname@example.org