My friend Ian talked me into attending the Viva Las Vegas Rockabilly Weekend this past weekend at the Gold Coast Hotel & Casino. Four days of Rockabilly, Rock ‘n Roll, 50’s R&B, Western Swing, Psychobilly, and Doo Wop. I’m suffering from severe jet lag, but it was worth it. I haven’t taken a major trip that was not work related in years so an actual vacation was long overdue.
The Gold Coast was sold out pretty early being the host hotel for the concerts, so we ended up staying at the Stratosphere a bit of a ways down the strip. The first morning we took a walk down the Las Vegas strip.
I’m still getting used to having a new camera, so it just doesn’t occur to me to take pictures… but I got a few. The thing that really struck me is that most of the new hotels going up are all themed hotels trying to cater to a family clientele. Yet there are slot machines built into every available surface – the only available space that doesn’t seem to be used is the back of the toilet stall doors!
Every street corner has box after box of “Adult Personal” newspapers; Trucks drive by with advertisements for girls to your door 24 hours a day; Men stand on street corners handing out business cards for hookers; Billboards advertise “Gentlemen’s Clubs” next to the billboards for Celine Dion and Howie Mandell. Vegas is one big theme park, but it’s an adult theme park and I’m mildly disturbed by the efforts to attract families and more disturbed by the number of adults with children in tow we saw. It’s Sin City after all: Leave the kids at home! Ok. Off the soap box.
We headed to the Gold Coast to register for the show around 3 in the afternoon. There was plenty to see and do. The music ran non-stop from 3 to 3 most days on 3 different stages. The largest stage was the Ballroom upstairs with the big vendor room across the hall. On the main floor of the Casino was the Showroom, an equally large stage, and a lounge outside which was free to all. On the other side of the Casino and upstairs was another pair of vendor rooms. Anything you can think of that would be of interest to the Rockabilly and 50’s culture crowd was available for sale. There were two record shops from the UK. There was more vintage clothes and new “Vintage” styles for sale than you could take in, from dresses, shirts, pants, shoes, belts, and lingerie. One guy was selling unused vintage glasses frames and another was selling vintage lace panties!
We were both pretty exhausted so I didn’t get to see much music the first night but I made up for that over the rest of the weekend. I honestly have no clue who half the bands are I saw. I’m trying to make sense of it using the date stamp on my camera and the program guide. Unfortunately I forgot to bring my camera on the Saturday and my batteries died Sunday. I’m also still learning how to use the camera and most of my indoor shots didn’t turn out too well, but I got a few.
Music didn’t start most days until 3 PM so I found the hotel pool and spent my mornings swimming and reading in a deck chair. The pool was on the 8th floor of the first tower and there was quite the view of the Las Vegas valley and surrounding mountains, unfortunately I didn’t bring my camera with me as I was alone and there were no lockers.
Friday I stuck pretty much to the ballroom. I saw a few minutes of a surf band down in the showroom before heading over to a restaurant for supper. While Ian did a little gambling I staked out a table in the Ballroom. Being so far back, the few clear pictures I got are all from far away, but I got to see the Cordwood Draggers from the UK who I got a few OK pictures of.
Next up was Marti Brom who was pretty good, but my one picture is pretty fuzzy. Following was The Stars of Rockabilly Review featuring original rockabilly artists Lew Williams, Sonny Burgess, Art Adams, Joe Clay, Ray Campi, and Alton Lott. The backup band was made up of members of Big Sandy’s Fly-Rite Boys, and each singer got to do between 2 and 4 songs each. I wasn’t impressed with Art Adams or Lew Williams, but Joe Clay was fantastic and Ray Campi was a lot of fun. I got an ok picture of Ray Campi but I didn’t even try to take one of Joe Clay unfortunately. Sonny Burgess rounded out the review. I’ve never been crazy about Sonny Burgess, but I had to admit he is a good performer and put on a good show. The evening was rounded out by Wildfire Willie & the Ramblers. Exhausted and just slightly drunk, we left after a few songs and I can’t honestly remember a thing about them.
I did get one of my better photos though along with one of my worst yet still interesting photos. I kept experimenting with the different settings trying to get the best results with some… interesting… results before I found that using the sport setting would get the best shots of musicians in motion. I’m still not getting enough light in though. Supposedly there is an indoor party setting but I haven’t found it yet.
Saturday, after a late breakfast and a leisurely swim, I headed over to the Gold Coast for the opening acts. I forgot my camera but I managed to see bits and pieces of every act in both the Ballroom and Showroom including the Hellzaboppers, Rory Justice, Chop Tops, Lauren Marie, Arsen Roulette, Two Timin’ Three (fantastic), Deke Dickerson’s Guitar Geek Show, Amber Fox, Burlesque Competition, Amber Fox, Doo Wop Legends featuring Herb Cox, Harvey Fuqua, Earl Carrol, and Eugene Pitt. I caught a few minutes of Devil Doll before taking off exhausted.
The vintage car show was also on Saturday. I didn’t get a chance to check it out, but it attracted quite the crowd including gang members from LA. The crowd in the casino was mind boggling. Just as many people as come for the music come to hang out on the casino floor to see and be seen. The show itself attracts people from all over the world including large contingents from the UK and Japan, with age ranges from couples in their 70’s to 20’s with the majority of the people being from LA’s Rockabilly scene.
The tatoos on these people are amazing. The men and women alike are tattooed from the neck on down. It’s an odd juxtaposition of these girls dressed in evening dresses and/or dressed in hoop skirts looking like 1950’s teenagers yet every bit of skin showing is covered in ink.
Then there is the dancing. It’s a pretty amazing sight to see the ballroom floor packed with jiving couples, all dressed in costume, ranging from retired couples who were into the music and the dance originally down to tattooed neo-rockabillies. I tried to take some video as still pictures can’t capture the movement, but that’s how I drained my batteries!
Sunday was an interesting and long day. We had prebooked a round trip shuttle to and from the hotel and airport. 24 hours before our flight we were supposed to confirm the shuttle. Well, our flight was 6:45 AM Monday morning and the shuttle company gave us one time and one time only they would pick us up – 3:45. So…. seeing as the last act we wanted to see ended after midnight, it was going to be a sleepless night. I did my usual breakfast followed by pool time and made it to the show by 3 PM. The acts had started at 1 on the last day so I missed a few, but I caught the last half of the Lustre Kings, a decent trio, followed by a few unidentified acts and rotating acts. The remainder of the acts on the Showroom stage seemed to be a shifting group of musicians more in line of a jam, but there was some good music. I took off to eat and came back to find Big Sandy singing with a Doo Wop group. I made it up to the Ballroom to see a decent trio from the UK called the Sugar Creek Trio. They shortly brought out another UK singer for the rest of the set. A Jiving Contest followed which I missed. But from 8 on there was the Stumbleweeds, followed by the Stargazers an excellent Bill Haley styled jump band from the UK.
Ruth Brown was the act we were waiting to see, but unfortunately she was a bit of a disappointment. She could still sing and was obviously touched that this huge crowd of “kids” knew her music and were so appreciative, and if you were at the back and couldn’t see it would probably have been a good show. But, we were right up front and I just couldn’t watch for long. They had a chair for her to sit on and a music stand with lyrics for her, which I didn’t have a problem with, but she had obviously not rehearsed with the band or even looked through the lyric book before coming on stage. She kept bitching at the band to watch the tempo and alternately smiling at the audience and looking back at the band and rolling her eyes. It sounded great, but I was uncomfortable and feeling bad for the band – which again was made up of members of Big Sandy’s Fly-Rite Boys so you know it was a great band. A bit of a disappointing conclusion to a great weekend.
We took one last circuit of the vendor room before having an early breakfast and heading back to the hotel to get ready to go. I had a shower while Ian did some final gambling and we were off to the airport. We left Vegas at 6:45 AM Pacific time and arrived in Ottawa 5:30 PM Eastern time having been up 29 hours so far. Before I made it to bed it had been a full 36 hours on no sleep. I slept for 12 hours straight and needless to say I was rather jet-lagged the next day. I’m still feeling it two days later but I’m thinking very seriously about going back again next year if I can find someone to travel with!