Adventures in Retroville, Part I

It isn’t every night that you can drive 10 minutes and see an American legend. So it is this week, with the Rockin ’50s Fest going on in the ballrooms at our local casino.

I was out there for about four hours on Wednesday night, opening night, and it’s fascinating. There’s music to be heard and music to be bought, of course, but it also is a convention of sorts for those passionate about the look of the ’50s. It’s something to behold.

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The hair is perfect — pompadours, slicked-back cuts, ponytails, the Veronica Lake look, even mohawks. Plenty of sharp-dressed men and women, like the lady above and the gents below, all pictured in an ad for My Baby Jo, a retro clothing store in Los Angeles. On its web site, there’s a note that essentially says “Sorry, closed while we’re in Green Bay.”

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Indeed, folks have come here from all over the world for this five-day festival, which runs from noon (10 a.m. if you hit the tiki brunch) to the wee hours of the morning, with the last act hitting the stage at 2 a.m. I’ve heard German, Japanese and at least two other languages.

It’s quite a cultural stew. The first act I saw, Sue Moreno, is a sultry singer from the Netherlands. The second, Ruby Ann, a tiny singer with a big voice, is originally from Portugal. The next two acts I saw — the Vargas Brothers (who put on a terrific show) and Big Sandy and his Fly-Rite Boys — are Latinos from southern California.

About that American legend, though.

What can you say about Little Richard? Fabulous, simply fabulous.

I’ve seen and heard so much music over the years, yet I can honestly say it’s exciting to see Little Richard, and to see him for a second time.

The man is 74, yet still pounding the piano, belting out rock ‘n’ roll and the blues and doing a little preaching. He was in fine form, feisty as always and in fine voice. He’s backed by a scorching 10-piece show band — three saxes, trumpet, two guitars, bass, two drummers and a second keyboard player.

Little Richard was looking pretty, even if a bout with sciatica forced him to walk onto the stage on crutches. He wore a lemon-colored suit, its jacket covered with rhinestones, and a lime-colored shirt.

Perhaps my favorite moment: His cover of the Stones’ “It’s Only Rock ‘N’ Roll (But I Like It).” No, no, no, it was the giddy, thrilled reaction of a Japanese woman, one of several attractive ladies invited up on stage to dance, as she scooted off stage after shaking Little Richard’s hand.

To be honest, words fail to convey the essence of Little Richard’s greatness.

So, we’ll heed Little Richard and do as he says … shut up!

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“Bama Lama Bama Loo,” Little Richard, 1964, from “Shag On Down By The Union Hall,” a 1996 compilation of his classic Specialty Records sessions from the ’50s and ’60s.

Check back over the weekend for more Adventures in Retroville.

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Filed under May 2007, Sounds

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