Fourteen years, and my how she’s grown. She’s Viva Las Vegas, the annual Easter weekend gathering of greasers, Bettys and their pals at the Orleans Hotel in the real City of Lights.
Back in ’98 Producer Tom Ingram brought together a few bands and approached the Gold Coast, a C-list Vegas hotel with his idea for an American version of similar events that are popular in Europe.
VLV #1 drew 1200, mainly from California, but well-rounded by other Americans looking for an alternative to a mid-90s annual rockabilly event in Denver that was on its last legs. Some came from Europe and Japan and some crossed the desert in their vintage rides. Two vendors and a handful of DJs rounded out the mix.
Patrons of the Gold Coast’s large bingo room would stare into the lobby that the bingo parlor shared with VLV’s main stage room, wondering what could be going on with so many tattooed women in fishnets and duck-tailed dudes in Levi’s and leather. Five years later the bingo room would be turned over to VLV vendors.
Now at the B-list Orleans, VLV #14 is sold out with 8000 attending the music and 8000 more coming for what has grown from a few cars in the parking lot to a major gathering of the car tribes – not exactly Burning Man; more like burning rubber. The number of bands has swelled to 65, the vendors to 140, and special events have sprouted like little flowers in the Easter sun.
For example, participants at VLVs or yore would often congregate at poolside during mid-day band down-times. This informal time-killer is now a three-day Tiki Pool Party featuring vinyl-spinning DJs and the sexiest vintage swim wear on the planet. Then, somewhere along the way a few gals asked Tom if they could take off their clothes; now the burlesque contest is one of VLV’s biggest events. At VLV #9, Charles Phoenix, a collector of vintage 35mm slides, put on a show. Now it too is a regular event as are dance lessons, a dance contest, a vintage fashion show, pin-up workshops, all-night juke-joint record hops, burlesque bingo, Deke (Dickerson’s) Guitar Geekapalooza, and performances by the Satin Dollz dance troupe.
What started out showcasing a few bands has grown into a full-court-press entertainment extravaganza that draws attendees and participants from every continent. Those who’ve been to VLV know the drill, but those who haven’t – in a way, the target audience for this article – need to make reservations for next year now. The event and hotel sell out, so the I’ll-wait-until-next-spring-to-decide plan is failure-bound. There’s nothing else like it. Catholics have Lourdes, Muslims have Mecca, counter-culture types have Burning Man, and 50’s culture types have Viva Las Vegas: the best pilgrimage of the bunch.