Viva Las Vegas Gets Better and Better

Posted May 29, 2007 in
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Every year on Easter weekend for the past 10 years, rockabillys from all over the world ascend on the city of Las Vegas to rock, bop, drink and dance away the four crazy nights of the Viva Las Vegas Rockabilly Weekender. Here in Salt Lake, local car clubs and true rockabilly fans get geared up all year long to make the five-hour drive south for this amazing weekend. This year was not any different. The best rockabilly bands and DJs from around the world, not to mention genuine legends from 1950s, come together with the backdrop of Vegas to make this event not one to miss.

Tom Ingram has been the man behind this event, and has managed to keep every year at such a high level of quality that most attendees begin plans to go almost a year in advance. Ingram listens to suggestions about how to improve VLV year after year. He’s constantly searching out new acts and puts such a wide variety of acts from traditional to hard-rockin’ neo-rockabilly on stage every year.

“It’s like casting a movie when it comes to booking bands,” says Ingram. “I know in the first couple minutes of listening to band whether I want to book them or not. I’m not saying it’s not a hard decision, but my first instinct, my gut feeling is usually the right one.”

Thursday at Viva starts out night with couple bands to kick things off, but I have to say that Australia’s Rusty and the Dragstrip Trio were a big highlight of my weekend. After some truly amazing rockabilly that seemed to have come straight from the 50s, their bass player broke a string. While he made the replacement, Rusty kept the crowd entertained by playing an amazing Hank Williams Sr. cover. They finished the set by going crazy--Rusty on the ground beating his guitar, and the rest of the band just going to town on their respective instruments. After this performance, it’s easy to see that they are something special.

The night finished out with a rare performance from the sci-fi rockabilly band the Space Cadets. This band, I have to admit I was not familiar with, but a large number of the Europeans seemed to dig them. Fog machines and shiny space suites blasted the crowd with tune after tune of fast moving rock and roll. The festivities died down around 2 a.m., which is early compared to the rest of the weekend which goes past 5 a.m. most nights.

The first thing on Friday’s agenda was Cash’d Out, a Johnny Cash tribute band that blew me away with their sincerity and accuracy. Most of Cash’s early work was covered, and even a well-placed original found its way into the set. They were lots of fun for any Johnny Cash fan.

Something I never miss while down at Viva is the stars of rockabilly show. This is where the original rockers from the 50s get to play for their most devoted fans. This is only the second year that they’ve done this at Viva, but this line-up was truly amazing. With legends like Don Woody (who hadn’t performed in over 30 years), Sleepy LaBeef and Sun Records star Billy Lee Riley the show meant so much to those of us who love this music. Riley, who had been a late addition to the show, came out on stage the crowd went wild. Some of the most powerful songs in rock history like “Red Hot” and “Flying Saucers Rock and Roll” were amazing to hear from the man who created them. Even though these guys are old-timers, their performances are still strong and are one the best parts of the weekend.

Restless is a band that has been around since the 80s and has made a name for themselves in both the rockabilly and psychobilly scenes over the years. They’ve decided to call it quits, but they couldn’t do that with out one last US performance at VLV 10. They put on an energetic show, and are as about as hard hitting as you get at Viva, and great way to end Friday night.

Saturday is the big day of the weekend, and it all started this year with The Shifters car show. The Shifters, a SoCal car club, have been putting on the car show at Viva all 10years. More and more cars enter every year. It’s always exciting to see what new hot rods people have been working on. Watching pin-stripers add their art to cars is a show all on its own. Just the contrast to the dark dance hall that the rest of the weekend takes place in is nice--actual daylight becomes a novelty after a couple days with out it. Around the parking lot are plenty Salt Lakers. With the Unlucky Ones, Lost Souls and The Throttlers car clubs, as well as Nina and Lori of the local Slippery Kittens burlesque troupe out in full force showing off their rides and taking photos, it’s great to see Salt Lake represented.

That evening, the music got going with Deke’s Guitar Geek Show. Guitar virtuosos show off their considerable talents by playing impressive instrumentals. Hosted by guitar luminary Deke Dickerson, the whole thing wraps in a guitar pickin’ extravaganza called the “Double Neck Train Wreck” where 12 guitar players play six double neck guitars. It’s a great way to enjoy music without just seeing another band.

Big Sandy, who had M.C.’d throughout the weekend, brought his band, The Fly-rite Boys, this year. The funny thing about Big Sandy is that he’s been doing this since ’92, and even though most rockabilly fans have seen them numerous times over the years, they still draw a big crowd and still put on a show.

The last performance on Saturday night is by an Elvis impersonator named Dean Z. Now I know what you’re saying “Elvis impersonators are lame,” and I usually agree with that, but in the case of Dean Z, he's the exception. “I had always steered clear of impersonators until I saw Dean. Its like seeing Elvis in ’56,” said Ingram. This guy has so much energy and really puts on the early Elvis show. He’s the next best thing to seeing the King when he was truly the King.

Sunday tends to clear out, people got to get back to their lives, but theirs still plenty of crowd to go around.

Another Aussie band gets things going. Firebird are pretty hard hitting and have a pretty fun and loose stage presence to make it like you're just hanging out with the band while they play some songs.