We’ve been going to Viva Las Vegas almost since its inception and reporting on it in either Car Kulture DeLuxe or Ol’ Skool Rodz. It’s hands down one of the premier Kustom kulture events in the world. This time, we decided to do our report a little differently and asked the show’s promoter, Tom Ingram, to tell the story from his perspective. No one knows Viva better than he does, right? – Ed.
We knew going into VLV20 that we were in for a special weekend. Viva Las Vegas is the first music festival in Vegas to reach its 20th anniversary, the longest running music festival in Vegas. The publicity in Vegas was enormous, with the highlights for me being the proclamation from the mayor of Las Vegas making April 13, 2017, Tom Ingram Day and the cake of my ‘58 Cadillac made for a TV show.
On Thursday, as we opened up the car show; everyone arrived early and the lot was nearly full by that evening. By Friday evening it was hard to find a space as over 800 pre-1964 period-correct cars packed the car show area.
Musically, Viva 20 had one of the strongest line-ups of acts ever, including original acts like Brenda Lee, Wanda Jackson, Freddy Cannon, The Cleftones, Gene Summers, Otis Williams & His Charms, Sonny Burgess, Alton & Jimmy, Larry Collins, and Doug Kershaw who headlined the Dave & Deke Hillbilly Fest. Current acts included The Reverend Horton Heat, Lee Rocker, The Spunyboys, The Jive Aces, Si Cranstoun and many more. There was nonstop entertainment all four days with music and bars going all night.
Viva Las Vegas would not be complete without the pin-ups and the burlesque performers and this year had plenty of both. At VLV, there is an emphasis on people being able to meet celebrities from the scene. Most bands, after playing, go out to sign autographs, sell merch and meet fans. VLV also arranges people to come in to meet fans. At the car show, Dita Von Teese was signing autographs and taking photos with fans, as were Cassandra Peterson (a.k.a. Elvira) and Charles Phoenix.
The quality of cars was exceptional. From its inception, Viva Las Vegas has been strict on the type of cars allowed in the car show. The show is primarily a 1950s style music event so everything else must fit in with that style – the bands, the DJs, the vendors and, of course, the cars. At the beginning, the decision was made that all cars must be built before 1964 and be period-correct. This is not always a popular decision but it is what sets it apart from other car shows. VLV does not set out to be the biggest car show, just the best for this genre. One thing I have never been able to understand is why car owners have to pay to show their cars for which people have to pay to see or even walk in for free. To me that has always been the wrong way around so at VLV, cars are always free. And for the first 500 registrations, the car and driver get in free.
Other attractions at the car show include Axle’s gasser display, which always generates interest; and noise. I bring in a number of movie cars every year. The kids especially like these. The highlights for me were the BSA motorcycle from Thunderball and flying AMC Matador from The Man With The Golden Gun.
New to the car show was Skratch’s pinstriping booth where all of the invited pinstripers could gather and car owners were able to get a pinstriper to do some work for them. Artist Big Toe ran an art show where world famous VLV artist Vince Ray spent the day meeting fans and signing art. VLV has a big stage at the car show and kept the fans entertained throughout the day and into the evening. Then it was time to go back inside the hotel.
Inside there were three music venues, a showroom, two vendor rooms and a late night club where record hops spun music until 7:00AM each night. This room housed Burlesque Bingo which, if you have not seen it, is a must for entertainment. Rockabilly Radio had 15 DJs on hand and was broadcasting live to the world all weekend. Rockabilly Radio is a fast growing online radio station that caters to the rockabilly scene.
Some people think that VLV has outgrown The Orleans. I think not. Next year we plan on moving the larger acts to the arena along with some other improvements. The car show will have more lines to get in and, of course, good prices on beer. No VLV21 acts have been announced yet but the hotel rooms in The Orleans are already sold out. Tickets go on sale on June 1 at www.vivalasvegas.net. I can see VLV continuing for many years to come.
One of the things that has kept it going is that I really welcome feedback and ideas from the attendees. If anyone wants to contribute any ideas or feedback, please email me at email@example.com
I look forward to seeing you all in 2018, April 19– 22.
Words: Tom Ingram; Photos: Mike Basso, Roy Varga, Mitzi Valenzuela