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Stories and Photos by Dare Devil Inc
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On the first day of Greaserama ’21 I ran into Travis, a mechanic from Omaha who came down in his early-‘60s F100 with a cooler of Pabst and a lawn chair. We got into the early days of the show, in the ‘00s, back when it was at the Boulevard Drive-In Theater outside downtown Kansas City, MO. Every Labor Day weekend the whole stretch of town fully transformed into a rockabilly fever dream time vortex: the cars, the people, the vendors, all from the same cloth as the vintage community but a bit more…something. We were trying to put a word on it.
We went with “intimidating”, and as a newcomer to the world of hot rodding, it was, a little. Greaserama has always been home to the misfits and outlaw builders, the grease monkeys and gorgeous pinups in leopard capris with spiderwebs down their backs. It’s an immersion into the side of the kulture that generally lurks on the fringes but come out by the hundreds from garages around the Midwest to show off their latest builds, drink loudly and fire exhaust dangerously close to strollers.
It’s a semi-agnostic event, accepting pre-’64 cars and pre-’72 trucks as much for their creativity and spit-and-glue DIY spirit as their detailing and traditional flair. There are few car shows in the U.S. where a trophied classic parks next to three drunk dudes who chainsawed a Beetle onto a Model A, next to a ghoul sled out of The Munsters. It’s also one of the few shows that celebrates lowbrow art as an integral part of the kulture, with an exhibition trailer, auctions and rows of of indie maker booths and community vendors.
It’s no surprise that Greaserama hails from Kansas City, itself having a rich history of hot rodding and specifically outsider clubs and garages. LIFE Magazine came and did a feature on the Kansas City Dragettes in ‘55, then the only all-female club in the U.S.. In the ’60-70s builders like James Greene at Wild Child’s garage, Ray Farhner, Tom Davidson and honorary citizen Ed Roth made Kansas City an epicenter for the rat rod and new kustom universe.
That mash-up of tradition and progress is still very much alive in Kansas City and more widely in the central Midwest, and Greaserama’s 21-year run is a testament to its roots there, earning its title, “The Midwest’s Original Punk Rock Car Show”.
Host car club, Los Punk Rods, and a family of loyal volunteers, vendors, sponsors and exhibitors have kept the event running and relevant since ’00 — with a few early years skipped, making 2021 Greaserama’s Sweet 16. It’s now held at the Platte County Fairgrounds just north of town, having outgrown the drive-in almost a decade ago, and its original venue, the El Torreon Ballroom in midtown Kansas City, from the beginning.
It’s a contrast in setting, from an industrial backdrop with hourly freight trains rolling past the B-movie double features at night, to a small-town fairgrounds between cornfields and orchids. It serves the event just as well though, and is still as punk rock, now in a more ‘80s John Hughes, dad-meets-the-record-store-boyfriend kind of way.
We finished our beers and wondered if Greaserama had been clipped at all — by changing locations, by covid, or just by an early fanbase growing older too (there are noticeably more strollers now than the early days). And then The Foilers, “the heaviest hitters of Montana”, blasted the Platte Pavillion at sundown as rat rods fired up across the fairgrounds and dragged through the mud, competing for decibels and spitting fireballs.
No, Greaserama hasn’t been clipped.
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