Last weekend was the first (hopefully annual) NeonFest in Arcadia, Oklahoma. Several of my roadie friends decided to put on a small festival dedicated to the iconic roadside signage that has lined the Mother Road for decades. People were coming from all over the US to check it out!
Arcadia is a town of ~250 and is one of Oklahoma most well-known Route 66 communities. The iconic Round Barn has been around since the late 1800s and is one of only two such circular structures in the state. From the barn, you can look southwest and see a giant 66-ft tall soda bottle standing beside the highway. That’s Pops, a gas station + tourist attraction that boasts an exceptional variety of bottled soda pop + obscure beverages. It’s only been around since 2007 but attracts curious visitors from all over the world, even those that have no interest in Route 66 otherwise. However, the centerpiece of NeonFest sits in the shadow of the barn.
In 2016, the Richardson Building was restored and opened as a neon shop called Glassboy Studios. It’s a labor of love for proprietor Joel Rayburn and I was super proud to see his hard work pay off in the form of a nationwide pilgrimage. Not only that, but renowned neon artist David Rivers would be on-site bending glass and helping Joel show folks the neon process. Although the festivities started on Friday, I wasn’t able to join until the next day. I missed quite the event — that first night, Michael Wallis performed a surprise wedding! The day of torrential rain couldn’t dampen anyone spirits in the buzzing glow of that Neon Garden.
I woke early on Saturday and headed southwest. As I stood on the shoulder of 66 with my camera (there’s always something to capture, no matter how many times I drive that old road) a familiar car approached. Ron Jones and his stunning 1956 Chevrolet sped by; I hopped in my car and sped to catch up. I entered Arcadia city limits with the Tattoo Man leading me; when we pulled up to Glassboy Studios together, we joined the dozen or so roadies that had started their day even earlier.
Roadie gatherings are always strong in camaraderie. As I mentioned in my previous post, everyone has at LEAST one thing in common: love of the open road. From that genesis, there are a great many passions…many of which compliment one another. I love learning from passionate sources, and NeonFest was no different. I greeted old friends & met new folks, some of which already knew my work. “I know you from the Internet!” is a phrase I don’t think I’ll ever get used to. Though it had been many months since we’d all been together, it was like no time had passed.
One of the ‘new’ people I met was Alison Lamons. I’d become aware of Alison’s amazing artwork over the last year or so and was stunned she’d made the trip up from Florida to take part in the festivities. Her work is really special and if you check that link out you’ll see why this festival was a perfect fit. In fact, she brought a piece with her to showcase…which I’ll get to in a little bit.
As lunchtime approached, the gathering switched gears. We hopped in our cars and drove two miles east to John Hargrove’s ‘OK County 66’. I guess you could call the place a roadside attraction, but it’s more than that.
Over the years, John has transformed his property into a micro-chasm of the Mother Road experience. The land is dotted with multiple replicas of well-known Route 66 imagery, such as the Blue Whale, the Twin Arrows, and even a half-buried Volkswagen Bug. His workshop continues the theme; half of it is dedicated to his work on vintage automobiles and the other half contains a smattering of familiar sights. He even has a movie theater room mocked up like an old drive-in. That theater was the focus of our next few hours.
Several films were shown throughout the afternoon, including the debut of KC Keefer’s newest entry in his Unoccupied Route 66 docu-series: The California Promise. KC’s stuff is always high quality and, as you might expect, his presentation was well received. I wandered the grounds and visited with my many friends during the films I’d seen before, ducking in occasionally to catch a short documentary on neon or some of Roamin Rich’s aerial photography. It was a wonderful afternoon; if you’re ever down near Arcadia and John Hargrove’s gate is open, wander on in. You’ll be glad you did.
(In fact, throughout the day multiple travelers stop by Glassboy Studios or OK County 66, wondering what the heck was going on. I even met two ladies from Borger, TX that had just been in Pawhuska to visit Ree Drummond’s Mercantile…small world!)
At dinner time, our group took over a restaurant in nearby Edmond. We returned to Arcadia afterwards for campfire entertainment at Jim Ross’ house. It was the site of the previous night’s surprise union; tonight it would host an Elvis impersonator (complete with pink Cadillac) and a good deal of libations. Alison brought an amazing piece of art inspired by Native American culture and the Greek mythology that Arcadia gets its name from. I stood amazed as she explained the nuance and detail of her work. I truly had no idea it was so layered.
I wasn’t staying the night in a nearby hotel, so my night ended earlier than most. As the sun dipped below the horizon, I bid farewell to my friends and headed back to Tulsa. Though I know not when I will cross paths with them again, I know we’ll pick up where we left off, as is tradition. Full photos of the event are here!