If you have ever wanted to hang out with some of the coolest of the cool in the traditional hot rod and rockabilly scene, then you should have been at Viva Las Vegas Rockabilly Weekender the first week in April. For the past 15 years Tom Ingram has been throwing the biggest rockabilly party this side of the Milky Way.
Tom, who is originally from England, moved to California about 15 years ago. He used to organize weekenders in the UK and thought it would be coold to do the same here in the US. He knew the best place for this 50′s throw back bash would have to be the biggest party town in the United States. Las Vegas.
Rockabilly, Vegas Style
The first year it was held at the Gold Coast Casino. There were 6 cars, 12 bands and about 1200 people. However, as good things usually go, this rockabilly phenomenon quickly grew too large and Tom had to find a new venue. Today it is held at the Orleans Hotel & Casino.
Located only a few miles off “the strip”, April 5th through the 8th of this year there were over 20,000 people, 800 cars and around 65 bands. In a city that never sleeps it was only fitting that the festivities started early in the morning and would last almost all night.
When we stepped inside the Orleans it felt as if we had stepped back about 50 years or so, with a new twist. Everywhere around us were sexy tattooed Betties, looking like modern juvenile delinquents and sultry seductive innocents. Most of them were on the arms of cuffed jean greasers or cool hepcat daddies. One thing was for sure, everyone we ran across was having a good time and more than happy to talk to us.
People were coming from almost every corner of the planet to be a part of this celebration of everything rockabilly. There were sexy pin-ups we spoke to who came all the way from London for this experience. We asked them what would make them travel all that way? They answered, “Because it’s the biggest and best car show in the world. It’s hard to get cool American hot rods over there.” Even though there is a rockabilly scene, it’s not nearly as big as it is here. It’s small and gets boring in London, but here at Viva we can meet people from all over the world who are into it”.
Even though the car show ran all weekend long, we thought we might want to see what other exhilarating, heart pounding action we could find. We didn’t have to go to far before we walked into Big Al’s Pabst Bar. We were happily please to find a game of “Burlesque Bingo” being played. This definitely wasn’t the smoked filled bingo hall, packed full of senior citizens trying to subsidize their monthly check, OH NO! We think we might brush up on our BINGO skills after seeing a few hot burlesque girls throwing pieces of clothing down on a life size bingo board, while calling out G-29.
We then made our way upstairs to the ballrooms to listen to some of the hard hitting rockabilly. Throughout the weekend you could hear all different styles from rough edged psychobilly to smooth swing music. With groups such as The Moonlight Howlers, The Phantom Shakers, Voodoo Swing, The Jive Aces and so many more. These bands kept the dance floors filled with couples moving to the jitter bug, cha-cha and the lindy hop all day and night.
“We have been coming for three years now”, said Dutch and Heather from Minneapolis. “It’s because of the different flare in music and cars down here than what we have back home, and rockabillies from all over the world”. One thing is definitely certain, we were in the right place to truly dive into and feel what this custom culture hot rod rockabilly scene was all about.
Pin Up Girls and Rockabilly Style
Being the all Americans we are, we couldn’t pass up the oportunity to see a Bettie Page style burlesque show. Dancers such as Jeez Loueez, Lydia DeCarllo and Jolie Goodnight kept the excitement level up, as well as the blood pressure. The Vintage Fashion Show, sponsored by Secrets in Lace and hosted by Debbie Dagger was a fun and entertaining venue to find the next outfit for your kitten or maybe the zoot suit for you.
Now of course we know you aren’t interested in those scantily clad pin-ups or all that hard hittin’ rockabilly music. You want to know about the cars. As we mentioned, the car show runs all weekend, however Saturday it seemed the flood gates were opened. Cars and people started coming from everywhere to the back parking lot of the Orleans Hotel.
License Plates, Good Eats and some Rust
We literally were seeing license plates from all over the world. Some of the most amazing old school customs and rats on the planet were rumbling past. Four belly draggers went slowly cruising past with plates from Montreal, Canada. Talk about a cruise, it took them four days to get to Vegas. But the one that caught our eye was a flat black ’50 Merc with Melbourne, Australia plates on the back. We definitely had to talk with this guy.
Adam, who resides in Melbourne, Australia told us he has been coming to Viva for the past three years. After leaving last year he told his wife thay had to bring their car. “There’s something about bringing your own car to Viva”, Adam said. “I’ve had the car since 1999 and it’s now part of the family”. He had it loaded in a container and shipped to San Diego, where he picked it up and drove to Vegas. Adam said they have already booked their room for next year.
Mobs of people were salivating over all the chops, stacks and chrome toothed grills. Our senses were in overload with every form of eye candy imaginable to the old school hot rod enthusiast. Some were painted with glass like perfection, while others were tastefully patina and even a few with some good old rust.
Flat Heads and History
If you love the sound of wide open zoomie header pipes connected to a gnarly flathead motor, there were plenty to have your fill. For others the slowly massaged and polished look of the sled with lake pipes and flame throwers are your thing. Don’t worry you were covered also. As long as it was built before 1963 and for the most part had “period” type customs, you would see it.
This is the place where old school fabricators and builders such as Bo Huff come to hang out with friends, talk about the old days and meet new people. Some of these cars have been works in progress for many years. To see many of the younger people not only embrace the culture, but also eager to learn from the guys who have been around a while is inspiring.
Throughout the day, sounds of rockabilly music resonated from the outdoor grandstand with the Hot Rod Trio, Buzz Campbell, Big Sandy & the Fly-Rite Boys, Duane Eddy, The Ventures and the Polecats. There was plenty pomade slicked in the hair and more parasol toting pin-ups and Betties willing to stop for a teasing pose for most anyone with a camera.
Tom Ingram plans for this show with a full time staff of two, but during the show he has a team of about 120 people to help pull this off. After it is over he starts it all over again for the following year. He told us he doesn’t make plans for the next event and treats each one individually. “I just keep it going the best I can”. In our opinion, this was an incredible weekend. When it was all over we were wore out, sore from walking so much and ready for a much needed ice cold Pabst Blue Ribbon, but it was well worth it.
Walter and Peter from Switzerland probably described it the very best by saying, “The rockabilly bands here are incredible, but to be able to see all the cars, bands and pin-ups in one place is phenomenal”.
Photo Gallery (click on image to enlarge).