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Viva Las Vegas a rockabilly celebration of sights, sounds of 1950s, 1960s

He remembers falling asleep at the bar.

It’s that kind of party, you know, where you’re lucky to remember anything at all.

"I woke up at like 10 a.m.," chuckles Eddie Angel, guitarist for long-running instrumental surf/rockabilly quartet Los Straitjackets, recalling once dozing off during the all-night festivities at a past installment of the annual Viva Las Vegas rockabilly weekender, now in its 14th year.

The biggest event of its kind in the country, the four-day bash is a booze and pomade slicked wormhole back to the sights and sounds of the ’50s and ’60s, where both the threads and the rock ‘n’ roll is strictly vintage.

"It’s certainly the big daddy of rockabilly shows. It’s the wildest," Angel says. "We play a lot of rockabilly festivals in Europe, and they’re good, but that’s the biggest one, that’s for sure."

The event doesn’t just take place at The Orleans, it takes it over. Completely. Swallowing it whole via a gaping maw of tattoos, Pabst, pompadours and pasties.

There are fashion presentations and burlesque performances in the showroom; a vintage car show in the parking lot on Saturday; more than 50 acts performing in various ballrooms and in the pub where the music never stops; and pool parties during the day.

"The arena is the only part of the hotel that we don’t take over," says Viva Las Vegas founder Tom Ingram. "It’s growing every year. This is definitely the biggest one so far."

The deep lineup of acts is headlined by piano-punishing wild man Jerry Lee Lewis, cow punk pioneers The Blasters, 80-year-old rockabilly legend Sonny Burgess and Los Straitjackets, who are known for sporting lucha libre Mexican wrestling masks during their wild-eyed gigs.

The band has managed to fashion a somewhat unlikely career for themselves with their reverb-drenched, fleet-fingered, lickety-split jams, which come buttressed with self-aware kitsch.

"When we started, I’ll be honest, I thought it was just going to be for fun. I didn’t think we could ever make it as an instrumental band," Angel says. "But that’s the funny thing, man, the one band that I thought was going to be a joke turned out to be the one that was for real. All my life I had been in bands trying to make it, banging my head against the wall, and it always crashed and burned. Then the one time I wasn’t serious at all, here I am, making a living with it."

When Los Straitjackets debuted in the early ’90s, there was little precedence for acts of their ilk.

That would soon change, thanks in large part to director Quentin Tarantino, who included a tune from surf guitar icon Dick Dale in the soundtrack to his second flick.

"For a long time, there was nobody playing instrumental music," Angel says. "Then, when we came out with our first record in ’95, the movie ‘Pulp Fiction’ had just come out, and that really spawned a big wave of instrumental bands. All of a sudden, every city in America had an instrumental band. We started touring then, we were playing everywhere, and no matter where we went, there was another instrumental band on the bill. It could be Dayton, Ohio, and there’d be an instrumental surf band."

At Viva Las Vegas, which the band last played in 2005, Los Straitjackets will keep the proceedings rooted in the mid-20th century, back when rock ‘n’ roll was more about smiles than sneers.

"Our philosophy was that rock ‘n’ roll should be fun," Angel says. "We wanted to put on a show and entertain people. Fifteen years later, I’m even amazed that we’ve had such a good career," he continues, reflecting on his band’s legacy. "I think the wrestling masks helped."

Contact reporter Jason Bracelin at jbracelin@ reviewjournal.com or 702-383-0476.

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