For four days, more than 20,000 rockabilly revelers gathered in Las Vegas for music and vintage cars and to celebrate a youth rebellion from over 50 years ago. Viva Las Vegas! appears to revolve around three main ingredients: Cars, music, and a “look.” Of course, an event sponsored in part by Budweiser and Sailor Jerry involves alcohol.
The majority of the celebrants had the “look.” Clothes and accessories. Hair. Make-up for the women. Not many civilians were in the vicinity of the “Arena” at the Orleans. When the Rockabilly Weekenders were on The Strip or downtown on Fremont Street, they were readily identifiable by the “look.”
Even though readily identifiable, they did not necessarily stand out all that much in a city full of Elvis impersonators. In fact, you can go to any number of wedding chapels, and an Elvis lookalike will perform the ceremony. Nonetheless, some entire families had the “look.” From young children to grandparents. Parents and teenagers alike.
Hundreds of vendors were available to help attain the “look.” Thousands of different tee shirts were available. Dresses, skirts, pants, capris, blouses, hair nets, bandanas, purses, accessories, zoot suits, shoes, pomade, other hair products, and make-up. Vintage and retro-look clothing was big business on Rockabilly Weekend as were tattoos.
Some celebrants, however, came for the vintage cars. This was not an Autorama with overly customized cars. Instead, Rockabilly Weekend brought thousands of cars -- 1963 or earlier -- that people actually drive. They were for daily or weekend driving. Utilitarian. Not museum pieces. “Gritty reality” might be an apt description.
Many of the people who were there primarily for the cars did not have the “look.” Rather, they wore denim pants and black tees emblazoned with some auto or hotrod logo or event. Moon. Hollywood Hot Rods. Harley-Davidson (okay, I know, that is not an auto or hotrod).
When I was young, cars, rock ‘n roll, and a “look” plus alcohol often meant fights. But that was not what Rockabilly Weekend was about. It almost seemed to be a love fest. No sloppy drunks. No belligerent drunks. In fact, the more folks drank, the lower any barriers between them became.
At 4:00, hundreds of folks began to gather around the main stage of the “Arena,” which really was a fenced parking lot, in anticipation of Dick Dale. They were done checking the wares of vendor after vendor, who were in the parking lot and two ballrooms in the casino. The Weekenders already had perused the hundreds of cars in the Arena area. Some had heard rockabilly bands which played in three or four bars throughout the casino. Some had listened to surf music at the Pool Party.
The Rockabilly Weekenders converged on the “Arena” and the main stage area. The sun was dropping behind the building providing some relief from the 80 plus heat that had reflected off of the asphalt during the day. A bit of breeze helped even more. Despite an afternoon of free-flowing $2 Buds and the crowd’s pressing the stage, everybody was patiently waiting for the staccato, double-picked delivery of Dick Dale and the energy of his music.