Alluring ladies in classy pumps and 1950s pinup-style dresses flaunt big hair and victory rolls while walking beside big-belted greasers with slick pompadours. The melodic beat of rockabilly music plays in the distance and the powerful sound of revving engines, rumbling the pavement, is impossible to miss. You have reached Viva Las Vegas, the largest and most respected rockabilly car show in the nation. Forget about what you’ve heard about this neon city in the Nevada desert: When it comes to Viva Las Vegas, what happens in Vegas isn’t staying in Vegas.
At the 18th annual event, held April 2-5 at The Orleans Hotel and Casino, 800 cars were registered and 20,000 enthusiastic fans walked through the gates. Attendees travel from all over the world to keep this culture running strong, and they come from as far as Canada, France, Brazil, Austria, Italy, Germany, Mexico and New Zealand — the list goes on. The show featured pre-1963 traditional hot rods: Kustoms, deuce coupes, lead sleds, tail-draggers, T-buckets and roadsters, nostalgic gassers, trucks and even select movie cars. An extravagant mixture of bare-metal, patina, metallic flake, lace-patterned panel paint and exquisite pin-striping will keep your eyes a-popping while the rhythm of the music will have your walk a-bopping through the many rows of cars and vendors.
Cut-off T-shirts, large-framed ’50s sunglasses, cuffed blue jeans, classy bowling-style button-up shirts, leather jackets and teasingly seductive vintage skirts, blouses and dresses; with all the wardrobe choices, there are no excuses — rockabilly dress codes do apply! Viva Las Vegas is all about living the lifestyle, and many people naturally live it throughout their day-to-day lives; this is their time to shine and feel right at home with thousands of other rockers — like one great big extended family. Kids are a mirror-image of their parents, with matching hair and clothing styles, and are often seen in their own miniature hot rod pull-wagons until the adult night-time festivities begin. And there is plenty to do when the sun goes down, from late-night shows and dancing to burlesque.
Aside from the revolutionary hot rod car show, day-time activities include pinup and vintage swimwear competitions; fashion shows; shopping for clothing, accessories and car parts; dance classes for bopping, jiving, strolling and the Texas Two-Step; pinup posing and beauty academy classes; barber shop and beauty salon bookings; daily pool parties; good old fashioned bowling; and a tattoo lounge featuring several talented artists.
Tattoos do have a history in the rockabilly scene, but body art was not nearly as prominent back then as it is today. Many old-timers would work up a small collection of tattoos while serving in the military overseas, and some obtained theirs with pins and ink while doing time in the county pen. In the 1950s-’70s, a woman who had ink was commonly frowned upon, and she was not a person to be reckoned with. Times may have changed, but the passion for the culture and the cars is stronger than ever. So much so that Viva Las Vegas offers a wedding chapel service for the lucky rockers who have found their soulmates.
Rockabilly music, by the way, is a blend of old-time country, blues and rock ’n’ roll; it is a large part of the inspiration behind the culture. And the cars aren’t just an accessory for these rockers; their flashy, roaring and rumbling machines are a way of life. When they aren’t attending events or working to save money for their build, the majority of these car owners can be found getting greased up in their garages or driveways — and we aren’t talking about pomade.
The bulk of the annual Viva Las Vegas car show can be experienced on Saturday, and like most accredited events, awards are given to select vehicle registrants. Viva Las Vegas presents awards for the farthest driven, best custom, best hot rod and best in show, and this year the longest drive went to an owner from New Jersey, who traveled 2,750 miles one-way — a true commitment and an acknowledgement well-earned.
Rockabilly is a form of old-school rebellion with class, and ever since the 1950s, this lifestyle has been fueled by the love for its cars and music, and by the meaning behind the values, morals and mentality of a simpler era. It stems from the good old days when people took pride in their work and had a genuine appreciation for craftsmanship and style. Due to its history and the heartfelt commitment of the people, Viva Las Vegas is one show that will keep on rolling … and continue to be talked about outside of Las Vegas.