Originally Posted July 6, 2008- This Saturday I travelled to Winston-Salem, NC to attend the middle day of an event named Heavy Rebel Weekender. Heavy Rebel Weekender, this the eight year of its existence, is what you would call either a lifestyle event, or a music festival. HRW seems to celebrate the music and the culture of early rock n’ roll, rockabilly, psychobilly, vintage 50’s clothes and looks and hairstyles. There was also plenty of debauchery and a twinge of the Southern white trash aesthetic (banana pudding, pounding cans of Pabst Blue Ribbon and wife-beaters figured prominently in the contests between musical acts).
I, and my friend who attended went to bear witness, as this culture is not my own. I just had to see what was happening! A friend, Dave Quick, co-founded this event, and is a big part of its existence, and I wanted to see what he was up to each Fourth of July weekend.
I was hoping that wearing jeans and a black t-shirt would let me blend in enough not to look so out of place, but I do not think it worked. My black t-shirt was actually my Powell Peralta skateboards skeleton ripper shirt, and it turns out many at the HRW were also into skateboarding, so the shirt acted as a great conversation starter with many people I wanted to talk with and learn more about.
Saturday starts the day out with a car show, with these rat rods, 50’s customs and low slung handlebar small motorcycles lined up down Trade Street in downtown Winston-Salem. Guys and gals perused the cars, making pictures and talking with what seemed like old friends while in their greaser outfits; dark pomade hair, slicked into a pompadour, tight dark t-shirts with club names on the back, old dark blue jeans and leather boots or Converse sneakers.
Myfavorite part of this car show was actually alcohol. Many bars on Trade Street were selling plastic cups of keg beer on the street, and you could walk up and down the blocks looking at the cars with a Pabst Blue Ribbon in your hand. Always the Pabst Blue Ribbon.
Down toward where the HRW was held we heard a rockabilly band playing, and stumbled onto the back of the Millennium Center, what appears to be an old post office / government building, now turned into rock venue. The loading dock served as a de facto stage, and a rockabilly band was playing as hard as they could go, while men and women in their skivvies mud-wrestled! About 500 people were watching and amazement, all seemingly holding a can of Pabst Blue Ribbon.
Once the afternoon fun was over, my friend and I headed back down Trade Street to the Silver Moon Saloon, a very small bar, to tell stories true and non-true for an hour or so while we waited for Heavy Rebel Weekender to begin inside the Millennium Center.
Around 5:45 we made it inside, a huge room with a stage and many alcoves, the main room of Heavy Rebel Weekender. Vendors were selling their wares in the alcoves, music CD’s and t-shirts, but also car and race themed patches, vintage clothing for women, skull jewelry and real pomade for hair. Hanging from the ceilings were black and white silhouettes of music stars, with a color promo for Pabst Blue Ribbon in the top left corner. According to Dave Quick, these were the “Heavy Rebels” we were here to celebrate. I recognized Hank Williams Jr., and Johnny Cash and Waylon Jennings right off the bat.
In the basement floor were two more huge spaces, albeit with shorter ceilings, each with a stage set up, and a makeshift bar. Music was going on just about on every stage from 5:30pm until after midnight.
Always with a Pabst in our hands, my friend and I wandered among the three stages to see as many bands as we could, and only held tight to a stage once, at 9pm, for the “wet wife-beater contest,” HRW’s answer to a wet t-shirt contest. Nine girls volunteered to show everyone just about everything they had. Cold water was poured over their wife-beaters, each had cut or tied or knotted their wife-beater shirts into the style of their own choosing, and the crowd could signal their favorite with whistles and hand claps and the ubiquitous, at least in North Carolina, rebel yells.
My very favorite part of Heavy Rebel was the visual sensory overload from the minute I walked in, of the outfits and get-ups everyone wore. There was not one style, but many, all so interesting, but admittedly very foreign to me. There were so many, here is a short take on some of my favorites:
· A gentleman who befriended me, and kept asking if I wanted a cigarette .His jet black hair was combed into a pompadour, a good three inches off the base of his scalp, and he and his friends all had the same black t-shirt, a club shirt touting their local greaser club out of Fredericksburg VA. His girlfriend, an Asian looking girl, wore dark red lipstick, and wore black Capri pants and a vintage white shirt that hugged her bust almost to the point of oxygen starvation.
· Another couple I met, he had the greaser look, crisp dark blue wrangler jeans, and a sky blue bowling shirt with a black collar that was emblazoned with a 12 inch across Pabst Blue Ribbon patch on the back. His wife or girlfriend wore a 50’s cut knee length dress with fabric that touted a Hawaiian tiki and hula girl theme. Her hair was done up in a 50’s style I remember my grandmother sporting in her 50’s years, a slight curl back in the front, and her long hair curled into one big curl in the back, with a macramé head piece keeping her hair shoulder length in the back.
· Girls in polka dot dresses, with bows on hem, in dark blues and flaming reds.
As wild and wonderful as everyone looked, and despite the intimidation the culture might portray to the un-initiated. I did not see an altercation or fight all night, everyone was cool and respecting each other’s right to be cool, and that’s a great feeling when you are out on a Saturday to have a good time.
Can’t wait until next year!