Rockabilly festival gets warm reception

By Steve Hansen
QCS Managing Editor
New interest among young adults in old cars, old music and old pop culture united in a place where these interests never faded as Tucumcari hosted the first Rockabilly on the Route event June 7-9.
Organizers declared the event a complete success and are ready to plan a similar event next year.
Simon Cantlon, a South Carolina-based event coordinator who was instrumental in planning Rockabilly on the Route, estimated that 600 to 700 people attended the events.  He estimated that 85 percent were from out of town.
“It was above and beyond what we expected,” he said.
He talked with local restaurateurs and other businesses,  he said, and reported that owners were excited about the business the event brought their way.
There were large crowds on hand to hear rockabilly bands and attend the burlesque show at the Lizard Lounge at the Pow-Wow Inn and the lounge at the Tri-Star Inn.
Richard Talley, owner of the Motel Safari in Tucumcari and another event organizer, said his motel, the Blue Swallow Motel and the Historic Route 66 motel sold out. A turnstile at the entrance to the Route 66 Museum’s pre-opening exhibit at the Tucumcari Convention Center counted 600 visitors, Talley said. The museum will be the beneficiary of the proceeds.
Ungie Davila, publisher of La Loca magazine, an Albuquerque-based rockabilly publication, and another event organizer, said she has heard a lot of positive comments from visitors.
“People are asking me when the next Rockabilly on the Route is,” she said, “and I have to tell them, not til next  year.”
Rockabilly on the Route’s Facebook page scored 747 likes.
Next year, Talley said, the organizers are expecting an even bigger event.
“We had nine bands from five states this year,” he said.  “And next year we might have twice as many.”
Talley is even naming a suite at the Motel Safari for Wanda Jackson, whose concert on June 8 was the headlining music act for Rockabilly on the Route.
The event attracted young and the old.
Senior citizen fans of rockabilly, which gained much popularity right after World War II in the late 1940s, joined young adults adorned in body jewelry and tattoos and wearing 1950s clothing.
Among the younger crowd, women wore 1950s dresses, hats and even head scarves. The guys sported black T-shirts and black jeans adorned with watch chains and studs. They came from as far as Oregon and Michigan to relive good old days or to evoke a time before they were born.
Along with the rockabilly music revival, the car culture of the 1960s was in full bloom. A classic car show sponsored by two Albuquerque car clubs, the Voodoo Creeps and the Straight Razors, both led by adults in their 30s, filled the Tucumcari Convention Center parking lot with finned relics from the 1950s, muscle cars from the 1960s and a host of rat rods, cars and trucks from the 1950s and before that have been customized to show modified power-house engines, and then painted, or not.
Rockabilly music, old and new, filled the air.
Wanda Jackson, the original Queen of Rockabilly, headlined the musical performances, backed by Whiskey Kiss, a Phoenix rockabilly quintet, at the Tucumcari Convention Center.
Jackson and Whiskey Kiss played traditional rockabilly, as remembered from the years after World War II when the term rockabilly was coined to describe a combination of  country music with rhythm and blues.
Others, like the Chop Tops, the Santa Cruz, Calif., based trio that warmed up for Jackson, and the Fabulous Minx, a young duet, played a supercharged brand of rockabilly that owes as much stylistically to punk rock as it does to the rockabilly of old.
Rockabilly on the Route nestled very comfortably in Tucumcari, where relics of the old Route 66 days still thrive almost completely uninterrupted by newer construction styles, just the right atmosphere to combine memories with a new generation’s nostalgia for a time of relative peace and innocence, event organizers agreed.
Davila said the new interest in rockabilly among young adults demonstrates punk grown up. These are the same young adults who rebelled against the establishment with death-image tattoos, black, recycled clothing festooned with metal studs, and piercings in the 2000s.  They listened to punk bands that played at murderous tempos as they slam-danced, basically bumping each other at random, in the mosh pit.
Those extremes have now mellowed into a revival of the rockabilly culture, Davila said.
After World War II, she said, there was, for many,  disillusionment, a depressed economy, and a war,  which parallel today’s scenario for young adults.
Although the 1950s are known as a generally prosperous era, there were recessions in 1948, 1952 and 1958.
Rockabilly and the car culture of the post-World War II era, she said, were community-based, team oriented, wholesome, fun and young.
Today, the innocence of that time is something that young adults are trying to get back, she said.
Rockabilly on the Route was peaceful, too. Tucumcari Deputy Chief Pete Rivera said that the event “did not make our jobs any harder” over the weekend.  “It was good bunch of people.”

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