Red Star Goes Supernova
Local musicians, bar patrons share their stories
By Jake ClappPosted Sep 12, 2012
News came out last week that Wednesday, Sept. 19, will be the last night that Red Star will be under Frank McMains’ ownership. For over a decade, the bar at 222 Laurel Street has served as a mainstay for downtown Baton Rouge, a haven for the city’s artists, musicians from every genre, and a few writers – the occasional Dig editor has been known to float around the bar in a post-deadline daze.
“This is prompted by a number of factors,” McMains said in a statement on the bar’s Facebook page. “For myself, I feel like my path in life has shifted direction, and Red Star, no matter how much I love it and how much of my sense of self is wrapped up in it, is down a proverbially different road.”
An offer has been made to buy the building, McMains said, but it isn’t clear what the future will be for the space once occupied by Red Star.
“Red Star has been the source of some of my happiest and proudest moments, and it has comforted me in some of my lowest times,” McMains said. “I have you all to thank for that.”
McMains couldn’t meet this past weekend for an interview, so Dig took the next best route by gathering stories from some of the city’s musicians, bartenders, and long time patrons who have had a long history with the bar. There were too many to print in this space, so check out more stories online, and if you would like to share your own hazy Red Star memory, especially those unprintable ones, feel free to leave a comment at www.DigBatonRouge.com.
Lee Barbier; guitarist for The Myrtles
Well, I was first introduced to my wife at Red Star.
Like The Bayou in the ‘80s and ‘90s, Red Star attracted a community of musicians, artists, writers, and people interested in those things, so as a place to meet like-minded people in the city – pre-social-networking sites – it was invaluable.
My band, The Myrtles, along with the Eames Era, practiced in the loft above the bar in what was the C Student Records label office. It was often where we all went to write songs, arrange them, jam around on ideas. So, it was a creative space where I spent a lot of time in a cool atmosphere above the social scene going on below.
The first karaoke nights at the bar were actually done with me leading a live band that people could get up and sing with on punk and rock songs. I was also known from time to time to pull out a guitar and lead sing-alongs at the bar on quiet, intimate nights.
Then there were the shows. Bands like The Decemberists, The National, Centro-Matic, and The Silversun Pickups (with Johnny Knoxville popping in to see them) playing there right before they became big names, and The Walkmen playing there after they’d become too big. There were more people standing on the sidewalk trying to look in than could fit inside for that one.
It’s hard for me to figure out where to begin; it’s just sad it has to stop.
Michael Pinter; long time Red Star soundman
I ran sound for almost every show at Red Star since 2004. The mixing board was wedged into a corner behind the bar, facing the back wall. To see the band when it was crowded, I’d sometimes have to stand on the stacks of beer cases next to me. In a world full of clubs with weird mix positions, I’d have to say Red Star would have to be high up on the list. I’m sure there are a fair number of people that either had no clue what I was doing back there, thought I owned the joint, or that I was the most aloof bartender in history. Despite the less-than-ideal setup, I had a blast these last eight years. Many fantastic bands walked into that little box. One of my fondest memories would be seeing The National play for about 40 people on a Tuesday night in 2005.
Grant Widmer; guitarist/vocalist for Generationals
I moved to Baton Rouge in 2000 which was the same year Red Star opened. My friends and I lived on campus. We loathed Tigerland. Chimes Street was decaying and we just assumed that there would inherently be better things for us to do downtown. So we just walked straight down Highland Road, and that was the first time we saw Red Star. I knew a few people who hung out there, even before I was old enough to legally get in.
One of my heroes was Gabe Daigle of The Myrtles who was a bartender at Red Star at that time. He was the coolest person that I was aware of in Baton Rouge. When our first band made our first demo, the only thing I could think of to do with it was to drive to Red Star (I was still too young to get in) and ask the doorman if I could go in just to find Gabe and give him our CD. The door-guy told me that Gabe was on tour, but that he would be happy to pass the demo along to Gabe when he got back.
The next day I got a call back from the door guy - It was Frank McMains, the owner of the bar and of C Student Records, the label that put out the Myrtles record. I still wasn't old enough to get into the bar when Frank booked us at Red Star for our first few real shows, but I knew that Red Star would be my homebase. And it was. From the days we used the upstairs room for band practice, to the days when Frank put our records out on C Student, to the days when I ultimately became a bartender myself for a few years. I spent more time at Red Star than at any other place in the world. All my friends were there all the time. I met multiple girlfriends there. The rest of the staff became my closest friends. The regulars were the best. I paid my rent with tips from Advocate staffers at happy hour (from the days when the Advocate was downtown).
Friends from bands, artists, and Spanish Town neighbors were there every day. I remember huddling there the night after Katrina hit with all of our friends from New Orleans, trying to make sense of what happened to our hometown. For those next months, all of us drowned our sorrows away at Red Star every single night. It was like our living room. We had good music to drown those sorrows, too. Before Spanish Moon was a big destination, Red Star booked all the coolest touring bands in Baton Rouge. We saw The Walkmen, The National and The Decembrists in that tiny room. We didn't know how lucky we were.
Jonathan Tillman; bassist for The Rigs
Of course, I’ll always remember Red Star as a place where I booked and played shows, and also as a refuge in downtown – always good parking. But most importantly, [I will remember it] as the place where I reconnected with a girl from high school, who I ended up marrying. Red Star will always be remembered as a special place.
Randall Harrison; former Red Star bartender
Red Star Bar shall be sorely missed. There have been few establishments in Baton Rouge that have consistently held a high quality of synergy and fun.
This credit belongs to the owners (Frank and Daniel Mcmains), all of the epic employees, and especially every single awesome patron that has ever crossed the threshold. Red Star is a great place of gathering. I most certainly feel lucky to have worked there.
Jonathan Loubiere; guitarist for The Diane Lanes
I started going to Red Star around sometime in early 2008 and spent more hours (and dollars) in the bar than I’d care to mention, but my two favorite moments have to be two of the first shows I ever booked at Red Star. The first was a tribute to CBGB and had We Landed on the Moon! playing as Blondie, The Melters as the Ramones, and Idiot Box as Television. The second, I set up with longtime Red Star bartender Randall Harrison where we had an Andy Warhol’s Factory-themed night. The Neighborhood Threat DJs spun records, I put a band together to play Velvet Underground songs, lined the walls with aluminum foil, and had artist Grace Emden do an overhead project liquid light show while the bands played.
Matt Sigur; frontman for The Widowers
I played my first real show at Red Star, and it was a great time. I played with The Widowers, and since then I’ve played with Dov Charney, Pacifico, and Teen Hustle.
It’s always fun. You can’t hear a damn thing, there’s no way anyone should be in there enjoying music, but sure enough people are, and some of my best shows have been there.
It was the place I preferred to play in Baton Rouge, just because after I played I could hang out with Loubie, James Fogle, Andy, Josh Nee, Brandon Dixon, whoever was there. Shoot the sh*t with them, introduce myself, then act a fool.
The last time I played there, I finally felt like I was part of Baton Rouge’s real music community.
"Mohawk" Mike Dodd; runs Red Star karaoke
The only reason I’ve known the community around here at all is strictly because of Red Star. If I hadn’t landed shows there, I probably wouldn’t have met these other people. The first show [Axes of Evil] ever played was at Red Star. In the grand scheme of things, we really had no right playing the show. We had only been practicing for a few months, but a bunch of friends said we should do it. So, we booked the show. They say you never forget your first.
John Ramage Adams; NANCY frontman
Before NANCY, we were simply “Nancy”, a three piece folk-punk group consisting of myself, and my two lovely lady-friends Hannah and Shivers. We played our third and final show at Red Star before both friends moved away. Needless to say, our last show blew (mainly because I am not necessarily a “real” drummer and could barely keep a beat). Also, I took three prescription ambien roughly an hour before the show unknowingly to my band mates... ah, rock and roll. But the crowd LOVED us and our final show was a great success. Several months later, I formed NANCY and soon the Delta Journal, possibly confusing my new noise-dance outfit with the former kinder and gentler Nancy asked us to play a fundraiser.
Quality over quantity has since become my mantra and I have Red Star to thank for this epiphany and for taking a chance on an unknown band of weirdos.