Saturday, April 4, 8 p.m.
The economy may be contracting—and with it Vegas’ convention business and my shoe budget—but interest in all things rockabilly is somehow inexplicably expanding. Funny thing is, it costs a fortune to be this retro!
Word around the Bettie Page store Thursday was that so far, those that had checked in to the Orleans for the 12th annual Viva Las Vegas Rockabilly Weekend were quite pleased with the upgrade from the Gold Coast. After 11 years of loyalty to founder Tom Ingram’s wild Vegas weekends of jive lessons, car shows, burlesque competitions and nearly nonstop live performances, the music festival had swelled to about 6,500, beyond the Gold Coast’s capacity. Still, others are staying at the Gold Coast anyway, preferring to take the free shuttle and save their ducats for beaucoup Pabst Blue Ribbon and some fresh pomade. I think I personally funded a car company’s bailout.
My first purchase of the weekend was selected for me by the diminutive pin-up icon, model and clothing/lingerie designer Bernie Dexter. Trying my best not to get arrested, I slip into Dexter’s Hardware collection “bullet bra” in the Orleans parking lot. A pack of twee little Femme Form bullet pads give me that preppy, pointy ’40s/’50s silhouette. Heck, I am already squeezed into a girdle and be-crinolined circle dress with a waist so tiny I might have been dressed by injection molding.
I smooth the dress down, noting that I look very much like the women in my father’s 1959 bar mitzvah home videos. I’m not alone. At the Crawfish Bar outside the Orleans Showroom, a throng of similarly outfitted gals and guys—the gum-snapping Rosie the Riveters, a pin-curl parade of Bettie Pages (strangely, the smuggest), Brylcreem-coiffured Teddy Boys and macho greasers—compare notes on being retro and sip $2 PBRs. I’ve died and gone to the ’50s!
The showroom begins to fill up with all of this and more: vintage navy suits, sweater sets, the porkpie-hatted ’30s/’40s swing-era aficionados and the pierced and tatted rockabilly punks … all blend together into a retro soup, in agreement that young Elvis beats old Elvis and stepping on each other’s spectator pumps to find their seats until barely a one is empty.
Everyone sports a little sunburn from the afternoon’s car show, where an estimated 20,000-25,000 people, a cross-section of humanity (and, it seemed, the entire population of southern California), turned up to drool over pre-1964 stock classics, low-riders and customs and to buy more snoods, vintage purses and chinoiserie parasols.
Finally, the lights dim. Last year’s burlesque-competition winner, Dizzy Von Damn, doffs her kit to a Tiki-esque ditty, after which the so-called stage kitten, Vegas’ Vi Vacious, and co-producer Renea le Roux (“The Southern Belle from Hell”) pick up the stripping detritus.
There are thin girls, thick girls, tan ones and pale ones, girls who waist-train with corsets and one who simply has no waist. But regardless of their personal style, they share the ability to draw our attentions to the slightest of details, like a wrist or an ankle and maybe—ooh!—a knee! “Subtle is sexy,” says co-producer Victoria Vengeance. For all the time they spent primping in the dressing rooms putting it on, it takes but a second for it all to land in a pile on the floor. Call it art mimicking life.
The audience eats up every second of it. Not surprisingly, they very loudly show their preference for real breasts, real curves. Gals who can get their nipple tassels in a twirl are held up as goddesses among women. And just when Vegas had me thinking fake boobs were the end-all, be-all. Burlesque is a size-acceptance art.
In the end, Lucy Fur, the life-size Tiki doll, takes first place, with Vegas’ own Cha Cha Velour of the Babes in Sin burlesque troupe (and also a registered nurse) taking second.
The audience files out, still arguing the merits of Cha Cha’s shimmy over Lucy’s shake, and heads upstairs to catch one of 50 live bands or to the vendor market to peruse vintage records or a new pair of old gloves. That’s right, kids, keep it coming, do your part. Uncle Tom (Ingram) wants to see you again in October for the second annual Rockabilly Rave, when we’ll do it all over again.