By Steve Hansen
QCS Managing Editor
At about 7:15 on Saturday evening, Ungelbah Davila, publisher La Loca Magazine and chief organizer of Tucumcari’s second Tucumcari on the Route, was pacing the main hall of the Tucumcari Convention Center.
At most, 20 people inhabited the hallways. The crowd had dispersed quickly when wind-driven rain started spraying the convention center’s covered courtyard. The musicians who had been on stage were now inside, drying instruments never meant to get wet.
The main concert was 45 minutes away and there was no crowd. The rain gave way to dime-to-quarter-size hail that pummeled the parking lots and outdoor stage that had hosted outdoor performances.
Davila held some tense conversations with members of her staff.
At about 7:45 p.m. the rain slowed and the crowd started trickling in, then, like the rain a few minutes before, pouring in. The concert started an hour late, but played to a standing-room crowd.
The audience cheered and danced through a program that included two members of the Dorados, a rockabilly trio from Columbia, who borrowed a bass player from Albuquerque to replace theirs, who couldn’t make the trip.
After Davila and Simon Cantrell, the event’s other key organizer, received keys to the city of Tucumcari from City Commissioner John Mihm, Justin Shandor, who bills himself as the Ultimate Elvis and who also received a key to the city, channeled Elvis Presley, the King of rock-n-roll, in the 1950’s, backed up by D.K. and the Affordables, a band from Los Alamos.
The last band on the bill was the Lucky Bullets, a rockabilly quartet from Oslo, Norway. Their high-energy performance hid well the fact that two members of the band had just completed a 26-hour flight from Norway, followed by a three-hour drive from Albuquerque to play in Tucumcari. Their return flight left at 6 the following morning.
They played their set on borrowed instruments as their own apparently ended up on the wrong plane.
“It was worth it to them, because they wanted to play rockabilly in America on Route 66,” Davila said.
Following the convention center performances, concert-goers packed the Tri-Star Bar elbow-to-elbow for more rockabilly from the Fabulous Minx, a Texas duet, and S.O.L., a band from the Navajo Nation, who drove through thunder, rain, wind and hail to make the date.
The evening of drama capped what Davila and others called a very successful weekend of Rockabilly on the Route, and led Davila to start planning a third Rockabilly on the Route for next year.
Like last year’s Rockabilly event, this year’s celebrated the 1950s and 1960s with music, car shows, period costumes and events like the Old-School Burnout on the Tucumcari Alco store’s parking lot, in which contestants treated a cheering crowd to 90 minutes of spinning, squealing tires, growling engines and billows of white smoke that reeked of burning rubber and stressed-out drive trains.
Other signs of success: The lines of vintage cars that proceeded down Route 66 or the Cruise 66 event on Friday evening and the Wheels on 66 Parade on Saturday morning were twice as long as last year’s, Davila said.
Dustin Brown of the Straight Razors, one of the two Albuquerque car clubs that sponsored Rockabilly’s car show, said there were twice as many cars entered in the show as at last year’s Rockabilly event.
Like the Tri-Star bar on Saturday, the Pow Wow Restaurant’s Lizard Lounge also hosted a capacity crowd who witnessed the Gilded Cage Burlesk Show and heard the music of Mr. Right and the Leftovers and Hellbilly Homicide. That followed another Rumble on the Route concert at the convention center that included rockabilly acts Voodoo Swing, of Arizona; Mad Max and the Wild Ones from Salt Lake City, Utah; and Eddie Clendening.
Rockabilly on the Route attracted people from as far away as Denver, Colo., and Las Vegas, Nevada. Garry and Carolyn Laemmle, Vegas residents who moved there from Queensland, Australia, made the trip for the music. They attended the bowling alley opening event and danced at the concerts.
Eight Denver residents got together to make the trip down, all return enthusiasts from last year’s Rockabilly on the Route.
Rockabilly on the Route also proved to be a bonanza for Tucumcari’s motels and restaurants. Michael and Cathy Fulton, owners of the Historic Route 66 motel, reported capacity crowds from Thursday to Sunday night, due to Rockabilly on the Route.
Richard Talley, owner of the Motel Safari and one of the event’s organizers, also reported sellouts on all three nights.
Three Rockabilly headliners alternated nights at the Safari’s Wanda Jackson Suite, named for the Queen of Rockabilly, last year’s headliner, who stayed there last year.
“We had people trying to book us for next year’s Rockabilly,” Talley said.
Kevin Mueller, owner of the Blue Swallow Motel, said his motel was full for the entire weekend, but said he had some Route 66 travelers along with Rockabilly fans.
“We’re full all the time,” he said.
Joe Ysco, owner of Joe’s Back in the Day restaurant, was not available for comment Monday, but the barbecue stand he operated during Rockabilly did non-stop business during the daylight hours of Rockabilly on the Route.
Yvette Peacock, an owner of Del’s Restaurant, which has been in continuous operation since the heyday of rockabilly in 1956, and Rockin’ Y’s restaurant, said Rockabilly presented “one of the busiest weekends we’ve had in very long time.”
“Everyone worked very hard,” she said.
For additional pictures of the Rockabilly on the Route pick up a copy of the June 11 edition of the Quay County Sun.