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Digital Subscriptions > Vintage Rock > Jul/Aug 2019 - Stray Cats > WHAT HAPPENS IN VEGAS…

WHAT HAPPENS IN VEGAS…

Now in its 22nd year, the Viva Las Vegas festival welcomes over 20,000 music fans annually to Sin City. John Howard reports from the front line of 2019’s event…

Viva Las Vegas bills itself as the biggest rockabilly weekender in the world, but it’s more than that. Apart from anything else it runs from Wednesday to Sunday.

And, musically, it runs the gamut from 50s rock’n’roll, hillbilly, alt. country, Americana, blues, swing, surf and every other form of roots music you can imagine. Did I mention the classic cars (hundreds of them), the 50s costumes and the Saturday night Princess Margaret lookalikes in their white-gloved finery, as well as the vendors and the joyful atmosphere? Well, I have now.

No wonder 20,000 plus-people make the annual pilgrimage to the Nevada desert from the UK, Australia, most of Europe, and some countries you’ve never heard of, to hear the biggest names in the field, and up-and-comers, too. Not to mention theatre shows, burlesque, workshops, lectures, tattooists, dance contests and lessons, DJs, record hops, pool parties and more.

Viva Las Vegas is the largest rockabilly festival in the world
John Gilhooley

THIS IS THE 22nd event, and from its modest start in an LA car park it has grown to fill a large hotel with up to six events happening at the same time, day and night.

The organiser is Tom Ingram, who cut his teeth promoting weekenders in his native UK, giving him intimate knowledge and contacts on the UK rockin’ scene, and has now got the best part of a quarter century gaining similar insider info on the retro scene Stateside.

One of the many attractions that leads me back year after year is the opportunity to see 50s acts who never make it beyond the US border, and this year it was rockabilly legends Billy Harlan and Don Woody who were must-sees.

For many, it is the bigger names that attract them to the Orleans Hotel year after year, and this time it was The Coasters, Linda Gail Lewis and Si Cranstoun among many others who were the bigger draws. Some big names, pencilled in to appear, failed to make it, but more of that later. Rockabilly filly Kim Lenz attracted a near full house in the main 5,000 capacity Mardi Gras ballroom on Thursday to set the tone for the next few days.

Kim made the front page of America’s only national newspaper USA Today 20 years ago, forecast as the Next Big Thing.

There were hundreds of restored classics, hot rods and low riders to admire at the festival’s car show
Julie Bergonz
Julie Bergonz
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