Tucked in a corner, near the narrow hallway leading from the second dining area and bar to the kitchen in Manuel’s Tavern is a framed copy of the front page of Creative Loafing, from April of 1999. To a passing observer unfamiliar with Inman Park, Virginia Highlands, and Morningside, the headline is nonsensical: “25 Years of Seeding and Feeding”. But to a local, those words invoke a smile and fond memories of festivals, local parades, and the strange and beautiful thing which is The Seed & Feed Marching Abominable.
You might remember them from a parade in Atlanta, or even in other towns throughout the South East, or have seen pictures of them whenever media cover events like the Inman Park Festival, or DragonCon; they are a motley, wildly dressed marching band, accompanied by an entourage of clowns, jugglers, and general weirdness. With their strange outfits, upbeat music, and lively performance style, the band has become a symbol to many people of what Inman Park and the surrounding area is about – art for the sake of fun.
The history of the Abominable can be traced back to a group started by the then Emory University theater director Kelly Morris (director from 1969-1972), which was inspired by the Bread & Puppet Theater and the San Francisco Mime Troupe’s Gorilla Band. The Asa Candler Memorial Marching Atrocity Band was created for “outdoor political noises and moves”, according to Morris, and it fit with the era of protests and demonstrations. Starting with Kelly’s own bass drum, he recruited a few other drummers for the group. However, it wasn’t until Kelly left Emory, bass drum in tow, and created Kelly’s Seed & Feed Theater, that the Abominable truly began to take shape.
As a personal aside, here, I should note that the Seed & Feed Theater held an odd place in my upbringing, but not for any relation to the band it spawned. After moving from their original location at Garnett and Pryor, the Theater settled in to an industrial building on N. Angier Avenue, in the Old Forth Ward. By the time I knew this landmark in the 1980s, however, the building stood empty and rundown. It stood next to a place I remember quite well, however, Joe Milam Body Shop. The entire area now is parkspace, but the tall chain link fence, overgrown lot, and the sign for the shop I always remembered whenever we were in the area.
In 1974 the group made it’s debut, first at the Theater as a sort of disorganized romp after a performance, and then again at the Inman Park Festival Parade. At the Festival, dressed in ill-fitting black suits with yellow tape piping, they were accompanied for the first time by the Abominettes, the majorettes, for the first time. They were, and would continue to be, a band for the sake of their own weirdness.
The Marching Abominable did more than just parades, however. They often did blitzes, showing up randomly at local stores or malls, and marching and playing through the area with wild abandon. At one point, they marched through a MARTA bus, on through the front, out through the back. Another time, they occupied the long full building escalator at the Atlanta CNN center, the worlds longest freestanding escalator, and played as they rode above the Ice Rink below (once a part of the World of Sid and Marty Croft).
For me, the Abominable was a part of my childhood. I remember them at the Inman Park Festival every year, including the years I worked a booth for my grandmother’s jewelry business, and the years I was there just for fun. They’ve also been a part of the DragonCon parade every year since it began, and mark one of my favorite parts of it each year.
The Marching Abominable celebrated its 40th anniversary last year. Since 1999, they’ve been funded by the S&FA Endowment Fund, established to continue the organization by helping to defray the costs of the band’s operation and touring. One can hope they continue to be weird and wonderful for another 40, and another 40 more!