This week in 1998, some girlfriends and I attended the second-ever Viva Las Vegas “rockabilly weekender.” Guess what? It still exists — in fact it’s now the longest running music festival in Las Vegas.
The most recent Viva Las Vegas boasted 9000 attendees, a tattoo convention, weddings, burlesque dancers and pinups, and one of the country’s largest car shows, with 800-1000 pre-1964 cars and 20,000 visitors. If you lean towards ‘50s car culture and fashion, you might want to hit Vegas during VLV, which claims to be the largest rockabilly event in the world.
Hotel rooms sell out at the Orleans up to one year in advance, and VLV itself sold out for a decade. Promoter Tom Ingram has spent two decades anchoring global rockabilly culture with this meticulously planned and visually stunning tribal gathering.
So I guess I feel lucky to have seen the start of it all. As a nightlife columnist and music critic who had already attended hundreds of shows and dozens of festivals, I remember being impressed with Ingram’s politeness and organized venue-sorcery even then. Good promotion is an art.
(Also, admiring the perfect pinup girls at VLV2, I remember being painfully aware of how much of a messy-haired outsider I felt like. Awkward me, carrying around and juggling a camera, pad, pen, credentials, and a purse … lurking and surveying the festival like a chaperone, drinking a cocktail from a large boot and scribbling notes in a dark corner, high on adrenaline in my non-period-correct riot grrrl slips and Doc Marten boots.
Like a party nerd who can’t join in too much without wrecking impartiality or journalistic integrity. This would be my life for the next three years, and I didn’t complain then and won’t now. Life in 1998 was good.)
Click through to read “Vegas, Baby, Vegas – part three of four,” originally published in the SF Bay Guardian on May 5, 1998.
This is the seventh entry in my “twenty years ago this week” project from when I was a nightlife columnist at the Bay Guardian, once the country’s largest family-owned weekly newspaper. These “Dilettante” clips, compiled on my portfolio page, create a serial portrait of San Francisco culture at the turn of the century (1997-2001).
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