Pompadours & panties: Rockabilly and Burlesque festival returns

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Labor Day weekend has always been John Q. Public’s long-awaited respite from a grinding year of work.

It is but a few days where every job-related concern can be postponed, where all the cares of that first Monday in September melt away. It’s an extended weekend so cherished, so savored, the government demands we relax. It’s hooky as federal mandate.

So how do you plan to spend your pittance of guaranteed vacation time? Well, Cha Cha’s of Coney Island may have the answer.

The Second Annual Rockabilly and Burlesque Festival is a four-day celebration of Brooklyn subculture as only Coney Island can present.

“It’s going to be a great weekend. If you’re not going to the country or the mountains for Labor Day, come to Cha Cha’s for a great time,” said John “Cha Cha” Ciarcia, the club’s owner and namesake.

The festival begins August 29 and runs through September 1, with four days of over 80 performances of live music, burlesque and sideshow acts and an international pin-up contest on the beach.

Although undoubtedly a strong subculture within the NYC music scene, Rockabilly (or hillbilly rock ‘n roll) has always been more prevalent on the West Coast and in the South.

Touted as the precursor to rock music, Rockabilly’s roots lie in swing, country and the blues and its most famous acts include the likes of Johnny Cash, Carl Perkins and Elvis Presley.

The soundtrack to the festival is paramount and the bill has about 30 groups from across the country performing throughout the weekend.

Benjamin Wilson, co-founder of Cockabilly Records and one of the event’s organizers, said the festival was a great opportunity to bring it back to Brooklyn in a big way.

“In any given week, they’ll be about 100 punk shows and like 500 indie shows in New York. If you want to see some Rockabilly, it’s only one, maybe two a week,” said Wilson.

“That’s why we wanted to cast a wider net, bring out national and international bands, and have one hell of a show,” he said.

Just some of the bands playing include Matty B and the Dirty Pickles, Sasquach and the Sickabillys, The Tarantinos and Jason James.

“The goal is to get all the people from that scene,” Wilson said, “because there’s something about it that just has magic.”

For the burlesque and sideshow portion of the festivities, dozens of acts from as close as Brooklyn to as far away as Australia will grace the stage, making it the biggest burlesque show in the history of Coney Island.

Though there are far too many to list, some of the acts include New York’s own Weirdee Girl, Jelly Boy the Clown from Philadelphia, Wild Card Kitty from the U.K. and Annie Cherry from Kansas City.

Then on Labor Day, they kick off the 2008 Miss Pin-Up Coney Island Contest hosted by Vincent Drambuie.

“These are the most beautiful girls and we’re all really excited to have it here in Coney Island,” said John “JT” Thomas, Cha Cha’s event coordinator.

Women from all over the world will turn out to compete, including Sugar Dish, Lucrezia LaBomba, Chiquita Bonita, Greta Garter, Annette Betty and Kristen Lee.

“I’m a nostalgic guy and a dinosaur,” said Cha Cha. “The pin-ups are like from the days of old, like the pictures WWII pilots used to put in their planes. It’s a really classy event and I like being a part of it.”

By many measures, the festival was a huge hit last year and its organizers only expect it to get bigger and better. Wilson said he hopes they eventually outgrow their venue and get a street closure to complete the festival’s vibe.

“We love it and we want to keep bringing people out to Coney to keep doing it,” Wilson said. “We love it out there and it just has that mystique.”

“It's campy and fun and it has that old-time Americana feel that people would love to be a part of,” he said.

The Second Annual Rockabilly and Burlesque Festival is from August 28 through September 1. All tickets can be purchased in advance at a discount at At the door, tickets are $8 for the outdoor events and $15 for the indoor events. The Burlesque revue is $20 in advance or $25 at the door. For more information, go to

Updated 11:48 am, January 16, 2019
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