The Viva Las Vegas Rockabilly Weekender is all about bringing that elusive ’50s-style back to life (with a modern twist, of course). Devotees from around the world—8,000 are predicted this year—will come to celebrate all things rockabilly, with more than 50 bands, burlesque performances, vendors, a dance competition, fashion shows, pin-up beauty contests, tiki pool parties and more. New this year is Burlesque Bingo: Every time a bingo number is called, a piece of clothes comes off.
And to give the 14th annual show an extra va-va-va-voom, founder and organizer Tom Ingram has booked a headliner that is more “real thing” than “retro”: the great ball of fire himself, Jerry Lee Lewis.
“I’ve been organizing events for years, and Jerry Lee Lewis is sort of the ultimate of the ones who are still alive,” says Ingram, who last year booked Chuck Berry to headline. “These original acts aren’t getting any younger. There’s going to be a time when I can’t book any of the original ’50s artists. So I want to make sure I can get the ones who are still around.”
Although the main event has been sold out for more than a month, tickets to the car show, where the 75-year-old Rock & Roll Hall of Famer is performing at 6 p.m., are still available. The Lustre Kings (noon), the Dynotones (2 p.m.) and the Blasters (4 p.m.) are also performing at the car show.
A draw in and of itself, the car show features vehicles that were built before 1963, and have retained their vintage air (no modern stereo systems or new-age hydraulics). More than 700 cars will be on display—including Elvira and her Macabre Mobile—and nearly 20,000 people will check out the vintage vehicles.
Ingram, a Brit who first got his rockabilly cred organizing a festival in England, says the rockabilly culture is about more than just cars and music. “You’re not following what the media is telling you, or what the record companies are telling you,” he says. “I think it just encompasses so much, and it’s fun as well.” Ingram says the vibe was summed up best by one anonymous festivalgoer—who may or may not have been wearing a poodle skirt—when she said, “You spend the whole year walking around with people thinking you dress strange. And for one weekend a year, you can feel normal.”