It was a time when hep cats and kittens cruised hot rods into the night. Jazz was the rage, then the blues had a baby and named it rock ’n’ roll. And hipsters weren’t a manufactured pop sensation, but rather the hip-to-the-scene wordsmiths of “daddy-o,” “far out,” and “square.”
But the fashionable flame of mid-20th century pop culture hasn’t died out. It still burns hot for a collection of retro-inspired enthusiasts who carry it under the moniker “Kustom Kulture.”
All things Kustom Kulture will take over Suquamish Clearwater Casino Resort this month with music, fashion, classic cars, and much more.
“It’s not just a car show, it’s not just a concert or a music festival, it’s not just a pinup pageant,” said Chuck Mitchell, coordinator of the Kustom Kulture Festival.
“It truly is a festival,” he said. “When you come and spend the day you are experiencing all aspects: the pageant, the cars, motorcycles, bands, all of it. There’s not that many events that do all of those things together.”
The region’s own Kustom Kulture fest is May 31 and June 1 at Clearwater. This year’s theme is Sinners vs. Saints.
Tickets are $20 each day, or $30 for a two-day pass. Kids ages 12 and younger get in free.
The festival features a VIP party with food, drinks and performances by The Twangshifters and Deke Dickerson. VIP admission is $60 and includes a two-day pass to the festival.
Tickets can be purchased online at www.kustomcon.com or at the RockIt Roost in downtown Bremerton.
It will be the sixth festival of its kind, featuring a car and motorcycle show, vendors, live music with 19 bands, pinup model pageants and more, each a considerable draw on its own.
Kustom Kulture is known in select circles but has remained, largely, an underground scene — a modern celebration of the ’40s/’50s/’60s era of hot rods, pin ups, greasers, rock ’n’ roll, and more. But it is an underground that is swelling, especially in Kitsap.
“It’s a culture of people that are really into the retro-inspired era of hot rods, motorcycles, the style of music from the ’50s and ’60s time frame,” Mitchell said.
“Then you’ve even got the art aspect of it,” he said. “There’s an awful lot of inspiration for tattoos and people creating artwork.”
It also inspired RockIt Roost, the Bremerton store owned by Mitchell and his wife, Hanah Reed. When the store opened in 2008, the couple didn’t realize it was the beginning of much more.
“My wife and I opened the store in November 2008,” Mitchell said. “And in January of 2009 we recognized that we were a niche shop, appealing to the Kustom Kulture lifestyle. We recognized that if this is going to work, we had to do something.”
That “something” was a festival. It would give RockIt Roost some exposure, and also act as a meet-and-greet for Kustom Kulture enthusiasts in Kitsap.
The festival has transformed over the years and now features every angle of the scene, from cars to pinups and a whole lot of style.
“You’ll see girls that are tattooed, yet they are dressed like the ’50s era, with the cat-eye sunglasses and ’50s dresses,” Mitchell said. “And the guys will have the rolled up jeans with slicked back hair and pompadours. It’s really inspired by that era, but with a modern twist.”
“It became obvious that there was this underground culture in Kitsap County, but there were no events in Kitsap to get people together,” Mitchell said. “We started to see, after opening the store, that it was bigger than we had thought. But there was nobody in the county doing these kinds of events. They were going over to Seattle for it.”
At first, Reed and Mitchell called it a “rockabilly” festival. But the name didn’t address everything included at the fest: pinups, hot rods, greasers, tattoos and so forth. So as the event evolved, the Kustom Kulture Festival was born.
“We never had any intention of it being an annual event,” Mitchell said. “It was just a one-shot idea, but it was a huge success and it kept going.”
Its popularity rose so significantly that the event outgrew its original space at the Silverdale Beach Hotel.
“The event has grown by no less than 20 percent across the board every single year,” Mitchell said.
Last year’s Kustom Kulture Festival drew nearly 4,000 attendees, more than 300 cars and more than 200 motorcycles.
Mitchell expects this year’s draw to echo the past. A considerable number of enthusiasts have already preregistered online for the car and motorcycle shows. Mitchell noted that an equal number of cars and motorcycles are usually registered at the festival.
Prizes are given out for impressive cars and bikes.
The fest also includes a vintage fashion show — a competition with winners awarded — a poker run, and nightly parties in the casino’s Beach Rock Lounge with live music.
Live music is also a constant feature on an outside stage. A total of 19 bands will take the stage over the course of two days.
“As far as Kustom Kulture goes, there is such a broad range (of music),” Mitchell said. “You can have a rockabilly band, a psychobilly band, and you can get into outlaw country.
“We have several parties. And during the day there’s bands. Between the bands there are pinup girls on stage, and they are introduced, and they change outfits throughout the day,” he said.
The pinup pageant is another attraction of the festival. In fact, it was the original inspiration for the festival, which now has two: a local pageant featuring models from the area, and a VIP pageant. The VIP pageant is held during Saturday’s VIP party on the casino’s lawn. It features pinup models from all over the country, some of whom fly in for the event.
The local pageant runs continuously over the two days. Contestants grace the stage between bands, but are also touring the grounds vying for votes.
“In addition to being on stage, they are roaming around the event, posing with cars. And they create their own marketing gimmicks, like passing out lollipops,” Mitchell said. “They are promoting themselves and encouraging people to vote for them.”
Attendees vote for their favorite pinup model, across a range of categories, during the festival, and at the end of the two days, the winners are announced. Several crowns are awarded, including tattooed beauty, two runners-up, and the coveted people’s choice award for the pinup who garners the most votes.
Contestants have been featured on the festival’s Facebook page during the weeks leading up to the event, www.facebook.com/KustomKultureFestival, as well as the bands. Photos of past festivals can also be found on the Facebook page, in addition to other information such as the event schedule.
Information can also be found on the festival’s website, www.kustomcon.com. The RockIt Roost is also online at www.rockitroost.com.