Annual Rockabilly Festival Celebrates Chicanx Culture

The Pitzer College Mounds were alive with the sound of music last Saturday, Apr. 2, for the 9th Annual Rockabilly Festival. Hosted by Pitzer’s Latinx Student Union (LSU), the all-day event brought in half a dozen local bands, craft and food vendors, and—in the true spirit of rockabilly—a car show.

“It’s a part of the culture of classic cars and classic music and that era. You have a car show; you have rockabilly,” said LSU co-coordinator Melissa Banales PZ ’18.

The Rockabilly Festival doubles as community fun and fundraiser. This year, LSU battled with Pitzer's Student Senate for funding, competing with other large events like the Kohoutek Music and Arts festival. Ultimately, they were able to pull off the fundraiser with proceeds from vendor registration, merchandise, and raffle sales going to the Inland Empire Youth Coalition and Pomona Voices for Environmental Justice. The money will fund two scholarships: one for an undocumented student coming to one of the Claremont Colleges and the other for a student in the Pomona Unified School District majoring in Environmental Analysis or something similar.

Headlining this year’s show was the 18-member Wiseguys Big Band from Montebello, California. Other acts included returning favorites from previous years like The 454s and Jonny Come Lately, as well as newcomers like The Honeydrops and Quitapenas, the final act of the night. Quitapenas, a cumbia-inspired Afro-Latino band, brought something new to the table as the first non-rockabilly band to hit the stage at the festival. The decision to include Quitapenas in this year’s lineup came as LSU began to consider a move away from the rockabilly genre.

“We’re trying to expand it and make our festival more of a Latinx music festival rather than just rockabilly,” said Alegria Martinez PZ ’18, secretary of LSU and public relations coordinator for the festival. “We were discussing how rockabilly might be a dying theme or fashion, so we’re trying to make it more inclusive of Latino music in general.”

While Rockabilly is historically rooted in Chicano cultures of the American Southwest during the 1950's, it has not attracted a lot of attention from younger Latinx students on campus, prompting LSU to consider expanding the scope of the festival. However, Banales believes that the rockabilly culture brings something unique to campus. In particular, she noted the name recognition among local community members who make up a large portion of the festival’s audience–the festival attracts everyone from car enthusiasts to families who bring their kids dressed head to toe in rockabilly gear.

“We bring in a large part of the community. People look forward to this every year,” Banales said. “The public just gets together and dances. You have really cute old couples who love to dance and really know how to dance. You see more of the community come out.”

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