Viva Las ’50s: 13th rockabilly weekend takes Vegas nightlife back in time

How low can you go? Sarah Kobus and Rob Nixon of Nashiville dance during Viva Las Vegas Rockabilly Weekend at The Orleans Hotel Friday, April 2, 2010.
Photo: Leila Navidi

Viva Las Vegas Rockabilly Weekend

A sudden spike in April’s Pabst Blue Ribbon beer sales can only mean one thing: Viva Las Vegas rockabilly weekend is upon us. The largest gathering of its sort in the world, Viva attracts rockabilly music and lifestyle fans from all over the world—especially the UK and Southern California—for four days of ’round-the-clock, vintage-culture immersion at its Orleans hotel base.

By night, the boys and girls jive and swing in the Orleans’ ballrooms or take in burlesque shows.

By day, they flock to the more than 120 vendors to stock up on hair tonic, crinolines, vintage and reproduction clothing and other trappings of the lifestyle. Special events include pin-up hair and makeup lessons, dance classes (neither of which I made it to, thanks to the raucous nights), Saturday’s car show (featuring a performance by Chuck Berry) and Sunday’s tiki pool party.

On Friday night, the Orleans’ hallways are teeming with greasers, and Teddy boys and girls. Last year, ladies’ fashion was all about Bettie Page, but this year—perhaps thanks to Mad Men—the bombshell secretary and Rosie the Riveter looks are overwhelmingly in. The dirty old men with cameras (MWCs) come out in force, snapping shots for their personal scrapbooks.

In the ballroom, as with every year, the front half of the venue is standing-room-only for the 50-plus bands and 15 DJs, who keep the back half of the room jiving. Meanwhile, across the hall (the other side of the tracks, it seems) in a smaller, darker room, crushed PBR cans litter the floor before a lineup of brooding Ritchie Valens look-alikes as if to say, “Now here was a party!” In the lull between Chicano-inspired bands, the psychobilly girls touch up powder, the boys take pulls off flasks concealed in their sporty gabardine jackets. “I’ve been 21 since I was 16,” says Vegas pin-up model Doris Mayday in a flip-but-fabulous old-Hollywood sort of way.

When the next band arrives and the dancing starts back up, no pomade can keep the pompadours in place. “You know, you’re ruining the image with that,” quips one MWC as I—and my giant, crinolined skirt—cut through the throng, text-fingers flying despite the crocheted gloves. “Oh,” I toss over my shoulder, trying to channel some of Mayday’s moxie, “I think this PBR can I’m holding has already accomplished that!”

Was it good for you?

From L to R: Dollie, Wade, Hellcat Kelly, Tom and Lindsey


Santa Clarita, CA

“Once you get into [rockabilly], you realize it’s the coolest thing in the world. The music is the best and the people are the best.”


Vancouver Island, BC

“I like the hot rods, the music. You get the influence of the ’50s but then you’ve also got punk bands. It’s come full circle.”

Hellcat Kelly

Oceanside, CA

“It gets bigger and bigger each year. Everyone keeps bringing more ideas each year. It’s growing, definitely.”


Fullerton, CA

"It’s like Cheers. It’s a big community of music. I know I’m going to know people when I get here."


Buffalo, NY

"I’m really looking forward to more vendors, more music. The pool party is my favorite."


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