Asylum Street Spankers on farewell tour

Asylum Street Spankers co-founder Christina Marrs is leading her band on a farewell tour this year.

The

sluggish economy has taken its toll on many business enterprises, including the

Asylum Street Spankers, whose long, strange trip is coming to end this spring.

After

17 years, the old-timey acoustic ensemble from Austin, Texas, is bidding adieu

to its fans with Spanks for Everything! – The Farewell Tour, coming

Saturday to Fountain Square's White Rabbit Cabaret.

"It's a

big band, and it's always been a challenge to keep this many people out on the

road," says co-founder Christina Marrs, the last original member of a group

that has seen roughly 40 individuals cycle through its roster over the years.

"When the economy was good, a lot of small businesses invested and expanded,

and then all of a sudden it tanked, and we experienced a bit of that too. It's

just not a sustainable business model right now."

The

Spankers built their following with an engaging mix of traditional blues, jazz

and jugband music, vaudevillian theatrics and sometimes-bawdy original tunes.

For its first decade, the band eschewed electronic amplification all together,

until its crowds and venues grew too big and noisy to conquer without a PA

system.

"It was

never our goal, even from the beginning, to be, you know, 'authentic.' We never

wanted to sound like a Smithsonian archival recording, or anything," Marrs

says. "As time went on, we did embrace about every American musical form that

there is, and probably stretched our wings quite a bit. But I'd say that ethic

was there from the beginning. We got together and we played what we liked. The

instrumentation has been the thing that was consistent throughout."

The

current seven-member lineup is Marrs on vocals, guitar, banjo, ukulele, saw and

percussion; Nevada Newman, lead guitar and vocals; Charlie King, mandolin,

harmonica, dobro and vocals; Morgan Patrick Thompson, string bass; Mark Henne,

drums and percussion; Shawn Dean, fiddle; and Trevor Smith, banjo, mandolin,

guitar and vocals.

But

as Marrs noted, the cost of moving a large ensemble around the country

continues to rise. And the onward march of technology threatens once-reliable

revenue streams.

"One of

the biggest impacts has been this industrywide shift away from people buying

music in CD format, which is bread and butter for a touring band like us,"

Marrs says. "It's probably impacted our business to the tune of about $100,000

a year, which is a lot of money to suddenly find yourself without."

Over the

years, the Spankers cranked out nine full-length albums along with some EPs,

DVDs and live sets, and much of that merchandise will still be available for a

while on the band's website. Their most recent release, the "agnostic gospel"

collection God's Favorite Band on Yellow Dog Records, was just nominated in

the gospel category for the 10th annual Independent Music Awards.

This week,

Marrs says, the band was scheduled to make its final visit to Q95's The Bob

& Tom Show.

The nationally syndicated radio personalities took a liking to the Spankers

years ago

and significantly boosted the band's notoriety with several on-air

spots and heavy rotation of earthy Spankers originals like "The Scrotum Song."

The impact

has been doubled-edged, Marrs says. As the Spankers discovered, the Bob

& Tom

audience had expectations different from those of the indie hipsters who

initially followed the band.

"I don't

want to speak too negatively about The Bob & Tom Show, because we certainly

sold a lot of records because of them," Marrs says. "It was definitely the only

national exposure that this band ever got radio-wise, to have a tune played on

a widely syndicated show."

But on the

other hand: "For the people who were turned onto us for the first time via Bob

and Tom, we represented this one thing, this novelty band, and that's certainly

an element of what we do, but it's not all we do. It would seem a shame to me,

after all the amazing musicians who have gone through this band and all the

musicality of the band and the virtuosity and the talent, to have it all boil

down to one lowest-common-denominator song. ... I'd hate to be remembered only as

the band that did 'The Scrotum Song.'"

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