After a three year gap, was more than ready to get my ass back to Las Vegas for the 13th annual Viva Las Vegas Rockabilly Weekender. Travelling to Vegas from London is one punishing mutha of a journey but it’s such a blast it’s worth the agonising jet lag. Here are my highlights:
Drinking Pabst Blue Ribbon beer: it sponsored Viva Las Vegas this year. You can see their logo on the backdrop of the main stage; it’s the white trash / trailer trash lager of choice in the US and sadly not available in the UK. When I drink it, it’s an act of loving tribute to Dennis Hopper as Frank Booth in Blue Velvet.
Catching up with American friends, especially Kim from Seattle, seeing Los Angeles-based Dean Micetich (a total surprise; didn’t know he’d be there) and meeting George from LA and Aaron and Allen from Seattle for the first time.
Jorge from LA:
The food: in Las Vegas it’s trashy but addictive. Jim and I ate mostly in The Orleans’s Courtyard Cafe. I’ll miss the endless free coffee re-fills (unheard of in the UK!) at breakfast. A week of omelettes, burritos, French fries and beer has given me a Homer Simpson-style paunch that enters the room 30 seconds before I do. Ooh my arteries. Maybe I should get my cholesterol checked ...
The burlesque showcase (couldn’t get into the burlesque contest itself; it was filled to capacity). It opened with a short but thunderous set by the awesome garage-punk / surf band The Del Rays with two gorgeous show girls go-go dancing (one of them my buddy Robin from Seattle, aka Miss Kitty Baby). Even if you see a lot of burlesque (and I do), the standard of burlesque performers at VLV is so incredibly high you can’t help but be dazzled. There were appearances by two veteran burlesque legends: 80-something Dixie Evans (the Marilyn Monroe of burlesque!) introduced Kitten de Ville doing one of her steamy 1950s routines called the Casting Couch. And 65-year old Satan’s Angel closed proceedings with a sizzling performance that showed what a seasoned pro can do. I got to talk to her at the Alligator Bar of the Orleans later on, when she graciously agreed to have her photo taken. She’s a fascinating character: gritty and funny with a raspy flat voice, reminded me a bit of bad girl Ashley St Ives from the Russ Meyer film Beyond the Valley of the Dolls. She told me she’s from San Francisco, started performing in 1960 and performed in Vegas from 1968 – 1980. Apparently she’s working on her memoirs. What a woman! Her Myspace page
Satan's Angel and I:
Someone filmed Dixie Evans introducing Kitten de Ville and posted it on Youtube. Great video:
Blind Rage and Violence (Deke Dickerson’s hilarious and vicious Link Wray tribute act)
Probably the best vintage car show anywhere in the world
First Lady of Rockabilly Wanda Jackson was on ferocious great form as always. Her voice is as raucous as ever and from the stage she exudes a natural un-jaded warmth and sweetness. Obviously one of the big draws this year for many was the headliner Chuck Berry, who played at the car show. Sadly the general consensus was that he sounded like he was struggling and is past his prime as a performer; on the plus side, from a distance he still looks like a brown-eyed handsome man and it was a spine-tingling moment to see him do his duck walk. For me Wanda outshone him but then at 73 she’s still comparatively youthful to Chuck Berry’s 84. Her new double A-sided single produced by Jack White from White Stripes is certainly intriguing: she covered Johnny Kidd & the Pirates’ “Shakin’ All Over” and even more excitingly, Amy Winehouse’s “You Know I’m No Good.” Jackson’s honky tonk angel delivery on the latter transformed it into an instant classic Country & Western lament.
Bands: I enjoyed Quarter Mile Combo and of course Big Sandy & The Flyrite Boys are always amazing. Plus plenty of other bands whose names I didn’t catch! In terms of new bands, there was a showcase of Latino rockabilly bands all on the Los Angeles-based record label Wild Records. Sadly I didn’t catch the names of most of the bands (!) but saw Pachuco Jose y Los Diamantes and they were absolutely mind-blowing. Alongside Wanda Jackson, they were my musical highlight.
The Pool party: always a day of sun-drenched, Pabst Blue Ribbon-fuelled heaven. Surrounded by cuties in their vintage-style bathing suits and sunglasses is like being in a 1950s cheesecake pin-up photo-shoot come to life (although their 1950s counterparts weren’t liberally sprinkled with tattoos like the girls in Vegas are today!). The whole day was sound-tracked by two spectacular instrumental surf bands: The Eliminators and the fez-sporting The Surfside IV. (Note: about 90% of the pics taken at the pool party were taken by my friend Jim. He was urging me to take photos of the girls in their bathing suits – I should be used to asking strangers if I can take their photos after having been a nightclub photographer for years, but I felt too shy so he took my camera and started snapping away. It turns out he’s a glamour photographer in the making!).
James's idea of heaven: James with two bathing beauties
Finally, the jiving contest: I stood and watched it with an expert running commentary from Kim from Seattle. I know sod all about jiving, but it is fun to watch – it makes you feel like you’re in the John Waters film Crybaby.
Anyway, since I got back the jetlag has been excruciating but Viva Las Vegas 2010 was worth it, and Jim and I have already reserved a room at The Orleans for Viva Las Vegas 2011.
Anyway, the photos are up on flickr
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