Retro cruise-in revs up downtown
By KARL KLOOSTER
Of the News-Register
Unsuspecting locals who ventured onto Third Street Saturday must have thought they had stepped back in time. And in fact, that wasn't far from the truth. They were stepping right into Mac's first-ever Dragging the Gut Festival.
Over the course of the afternoon, four bands belted out classic oldies and more from a tent at Third and Davis. Their various brands of the beat focused on the '50s, '60s and '70s, with a few original songs thrown in for good measure.
From 6 to 10 p.m., an eclectic collection of vintage hot rods and newer rad rides cruised up and down the main drag, engines revving, dual mufflers chortling that throaty sound unique to eight cylinders of internal combustion.
McMinnville's downtown district had been turned into American Graffiti revisited, albeit it just temporarily. It was the premiere edition of a core area cruise-in that could be held in Mac annually from this time forward, if founder Ruben Contreras Jr. has anything to say about it.
A firm believer in the power of social media, Contreras launched the idea for Dragging the Gut several months ago on Facebook, as a Yamhill County Food Bank fundraiser. And the response was far greater than he had imagined.
Classmates from his own era - the 70s - readily jumped onto the bandwagon. But word spread rapidly over the Internet, and it ultimately came to span more than a generation of teenage points in time.
As the date neared, more than 2,000 people came to be associated with the event. It was what can only be described as a Facebook phenomenon.
The common denominator, of course, was the shared memory of a nostalgic experience, a local teeny-bopper tradition that lasted from the early 1950s to 1988, when the city finally banned downtown cruising once and for all.
The crowd was estimated at more than a thousand. That's pretty impressive for an event with essentially no promotion budget.
But it wasn't just the number of people on hand, it was their excitement and enthusiasm, that truly made this a special occasion. not to mention that nine barrels were filled to the brim with food donations.
Putting a logistically complex public event together in such a short period of time was no small feat. And Contreras heaped praise on the organizations and individual volunteers who stepped up to help make it happen.
First and foremost came McMenamin's, whose management agreed to act as the festival's primary sponsor and offered to make Hotel Oregon cruise-in central.
That evening, a Sock Hop Dance Party was held in Mattie's Room, on the hotel's second floor. Pink clad, bunny-eared women - more than a bit beyond their teen years in most cases - flocked in to enjoy the music of Big Mama Gayle and her Sugar Daddies.
Accompanied by their less flamboyantly dressed spouses and significant others, the retro femme fatales energetically took to the dance floor as Big Mama launched into a rollicking rock and roll revue.
Rob Leathers assumed responsibility for lining up the bands. His own group, Papa Roby and Chill took the tent-covered stage adjacent to U.S. Bank Plaza at noon, followed by Second Chance Heroes, an acoustic group from Gig Harbor, Wash.
At 2 p.m., Myron LeRoy, who has worked the Northwest circuit since the late 1970s, joined with his band, The Faithful Few. He delivered a blues, rock and country crossover sound to appreciative listeners.
Scheduled from 4 to 6 p.m., the golden oldies renditions of Southpaw Speedway, led by singer/guitarist Truxton Meadows, wrapped up the afternoon's program. The McMinnville band proved so popular, audience urging persuaded it to continue playing 20 minutes past its assigned time.
Finally tearing itself away from those evocative tunes of interconnected eras, the crowd was drawn to a parade of vehicles, beginning to fill Third Street bumper to bumper both ways.
Call it a moving vintage car show. There were a bevy of Chevys from the mid-50s and early 60s, many fine Ford Fairlanes and muscle-bound Mustangs, along with GTOs, Chargers, Corvettes, a covey of Caddy convertibles and a passel of period pickups.
Highlights from the host of hot rods included a radically modified Model T, a dandy Deuce Roadster, a Model A two-door, a cherry '37 Chevy in bright orange and a '57 Buick brought down as low as you can go.
Just to get in on the act, people also showed up in SUVs, BMWs, Jeeps and several way-cool Pocket Rockets, among them a raked Mazda that looked and sounded like it should have been on the track rather than the street.
If the list of sponsors and supporters is any indication - and it's a long one - the Dragging the Gut Festival will likely play a prominent annual role in McMinnville's future.
Contreras got the city of McMinnville, McMinnville Downtown Association and McMinnville Area Chamber of Commerce together, along with nearly two dozen local businesses, seven of whom promoted the festival on their reader boards.
As word spreads about its successful inception, it's a good bet Dragging the Gut will be even bigger and better in 2011. Find loads of enthusiastic feedback at http://idraggedthegut.blogspot.com.