The Greazefest Kustom Kulture Festival will celebrate its 20th anniversary year in the Redlands area this weekend, showing that the Southeast’s love of 1950s rockabilly culture is still going strong.
The festival, which pays homage to all things vintage and rockabilly, kicks off at the Redland Showgrounds in Cleveland on Friday, bringing with it an impressive display of hot rods and vintage cars, a host of market stalls, more than 20 bands including international headliners, and two “pinup pageants”.
Many Greazefest attendees take the opportunity to get decked out in ‘50s fashion, while others compete in the pageants, ensuring the three-day event is full of colour and spectacle.
The brainchild behind Greazefest is Lori Lee, who began the festival at a time when she said “rockabilly, hot rods and kustom kulture” was experiencing “a huge explosion of growth all across the world”.
“It was sort of just an opportunity at the time to come up with our own form of festival, one that was made by the people for the people, so it wasn’t somebody’s interpretation of what ‘rockabilly’ should be,” Ms Lee said.
She said although there were only about 200 attendees in the festival’s first year, the festival now gets around 10,000 attendees, drawing not just local but also interstate and international guests.
Ms Lee said fans of the festival didn’t just include those who were immersed in the rockabilly subculture; instead, she said people from all walks of life liked to visit the event.
“We get so many people from the general public as well that want to come along and see how we look, how we dress and have a look at the cars, and escape for a couple of days from the day-to-day grind,” she said.
Lori Lee said the rockabilly subculture was about more than just clothes and that certain style.
She said the roots of the subculture were based in the music that makes up rockabilly – a mix of rock and hillbilly – and that music helped draw a crowd of rockabilly music devotees to Greazefest.
Ms Lee said she discovered her own love of rockabilly music in the 1980s.
“It was really the Cramps that turned me onto rockabilly, and I started researching the original versions of songs they were covering, and that’s what turned me onto rockabilly and I’ve stuck with it,” she said.
Greazefest’s 20-year anniversary is also a personal milestone for Lori Lee.
The first job for her events company, which handles festivals, tours and gigs, was staging US band The Paladins for the Queensland leg of their international tour in 1999 and now, 20 years on, the band are finally coming back to Australia to perform at Greazefest.
“I think it is a really good completion to be able to present them again and they don’t come out that often,” she said.
Ms Lee said having live music at Greazefest was really important.
“[The music] is an absolute passion of mine and when it comes to Greazefest, having the music performed live is what is important to me.”
Another big draw to Greazefest are the event’s two costumed “pinup pageants”, Miss Tiki Wahini and Hot Rod Belle.
While the idea of the “pinup” gained popularity in the 1940s and was used to describe models whose pictures were designed to be ‘pinned up’ on walls, the modern interpretation of the term is a bit different.
Today’s “pinup” describes a fashion style that pays homage to the make-up, hair and fashion of the ‘50s, but the image also includes a healthy dose of body positivity and self-expression.
Consequently, pageants contestants at Greazefest are judged on their originality, self-confidence and styling, rather than on more traditional beauty pageant values.
The two of Greazefest pageants appeal to different groups within the subculture.
The Tiki Wahini pageant appeals to entrants who have a love of nostalgic Hawaiian style, with entrants embracing the tiki culture that American naval sailors brought home from the South Pacific region after World War II.
Tiki Wahini pageant entrant Emma Drummond, who is better known as Rose D’Luxe, promotes herself as a pinup lass with sass, boasting a tattoo sleeve with a vintage vibe and a personality to match.
“I am not a cute pinup or cheesecake pinup,” Ms D’Luxe said.
“I adore those girls that are, but I am just too rough around the edges, and I can really rough it up for some people,” she said.
“People want to see that, they want to see the true you.”
Ms D’Luxe said she began exploring the pinup scene five years ago and has attended Greazefest every year since.
Her passion for rockabilly events has even seen her travel to America, where she attends the Viva Las Vegas Rockabilly Weekend each year.
When Ms D’Luxe entered her first pageant in 2016 she recalls feeling petrified.
“[I had] that sinking feeling [you get] when you feel like you’re going to vomit, and you can feel yourself shaking and you know everyone can see you shaking”.
But Ms D’Luxe powered through and her confidence has grown so much that she has now taken part in “too many pageants to count”.
Of the many pinup pageants on offer, Ms D’Luxe now restricts herself to one a year, hoping other women will take the opportunity to enter and grow their own self-confidence.
“I feel I have had my time and I like to see new girls come forward and have a crack at it like I did, and just get out there and enjoy themselves,” she said.
Ms D’Luxe works as an operating theatre nurse in a children’s hospital, which is a job she finds both mentally and physically challenging, so she looks forward to her downtime and putting on her “pinup persona”.
“I think that is another reason I love being able to step into the rockabilly life… it gives me that relief from work-related stresses and the ability to switch off because my work is so intense,” she said.
For Rose D’Luxe, who grew up with her parents and grandparents playing rockabilly hits she still loves, there is a sense of nostalgia to the music that she adores.
“I was really drawn on [my grandparents] life back in the day, not so much the values, because they have shifted in a positive and more progressive way, but the involvement and everyone being inclusive and enjoying life for the right reasons.”
Greazefest’s second “pinup pageant”, the Hot Red Belle, sees competitors take inspiration from everything hot rod, often donning flames and checkerboards on their outfit.
Hot Red Belle pageant entrant Amy Burkett – better known as Peachy Petra – is new to the pinup scene but said she had been surprised by the welcoming community of people she had found.
“It sounds super cheesy, but honestly the people I have met have been so lovely and I have made some really amazing friends so quickly, [and] even though it is a competition everyone is super supportive,” Ms Petra said.
Many contestants credit pinup pageants like the two held at Greazefest for shining a light on body positivity.
Although Ms Petra was hesitant to enter any form of beauty pageant at first, she said she quickly realised the pinup pageants were about more than looks.
“I always felt like I wasn’t very pretty and thought ‘oh, it’s a pageant, pageant means beauty’, but then I started seeing the ladies [entering] in all different shapes, sizes and ages,” she said.
“Since I started doing it my body confidence is through the roof and I am way more confident in my body.”
People of all ages have found their niche and become confident in themselves after partaking in the rockabilly scene and finding a fashion style that suits them.
“I feel a lot more confident because it is who I am, and it is nice to go to these events where it is celebrated,” Ms Petra said.
Meanwhile, Ms D’Luxe said she had fallen in love with the welcoming and inclusive environment that events like Greazefest present.
“[It is] very positive and full of entertainment and difference, there is a lot of diversity and I don’t want that lost in the pinup world.”
Greazefest will be held from Friday August 2 to Sunday August 4 at the Redland Showgrounds in Cleveland, with tickets ranging from $20 to $40 depending on the day.
To get discounted tickets to the festival, book in advance at www.greazefest.com