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Symco Shakedown: The Best Hot Rod and Rockabilly Party in the Midwest

Koffin Kats performing at Symco Shakedown 2013

Koffin Kats performing at Symco Shakedown 2013

There are three reasons that I drive the 5 hours to Symco Shakedown every year: the cars, the music, and the people watching. This event is hella cool, and I can't say enough positive things about it.

The Hot Rods

There were so many cars at the show this year, that they were parked all over the grounds - any tight space that a car could be squeezed into, one was. For the most part, the crowd respected the unspoken rule not to touch things that you don't own; however, every once in a while you'd come across someone passed out inside a car, or a drunk girl precariously juggling her beer and purse as she not-so-gracefully climbed into the driver's seat. Whether these people owned the cars they were sitting in or not, I can't say...but I choose to think not, because it makes for a better story.

Now cars really aren't my thing (I fit into the "rockabilly fanatic" category), but I will say that the flaming hot rod competition was pretty much the coolest thing I've seen all year. Seriously, it put my Fourth of July fireworks experience to shame - I've never "ooh"ed and "aah"ed over anything this much. Check out the video I recorded below - I was so close, I had to keep blocking my face from the heat.

Flaming Hot Rod Competition

The Music

There are three different places to see music at the Symco Shakedown - The Band Shell, which is outdoors; the Dance Hall, which is just a big open barn with an unlimited supply of $2 cans of PBR (and Coors, if you're into that); and the Unionville Saloon, which in my opinion, is the most fun of the three. The saloon has $1 draws and $5 pitchers, and while you will have one heck of a time finding a place to sit, the vibe in this place is "let's get rowdy and have some fun!"

Bands that performed at Symco both in 2012 and 2013 include The One Night Standards, the Krank Daddies, The Twistin' Tarantulas, the Heeby Jeebies and a few others. My favorites from this year were the Muddy Udders (these guys are crazy - they were all shirtless by the end of their set) and The One Night Standards (I dig surf rock). A few of the other bands cater to the crowd that appreciates harder rock music - the Afterdarks and Koffin Kats are more psychobilly-style.

People Watching at Symco Shakedown

This event draws three basic groups of people: Tattooed and bearded hipsters, your average car loving Joe, and rockabilly fanatics. A majority are Wisconsinites, and they are such a friendly group of people to hang out with. Even if you show up alone, you'll leave with a group of new friends.

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Other cool stuff

There are lots of things to do at Symco Shakedown besides looking at cars and listening to bands. Here are some of the highlights:

Camping - you pretty much have to camp if you spend more than one day here. There really aren't any nearby hotels to speak of, and if you've been drinking, you wouldn't want to drive there anyway. But the camping is part of the fun! Lots of people bring their vintage rigs, and it's nice to have a place to go and rest during your down time - you'll be on your feet a lot at this event, after all. You will likely know the names of all of your camping neighbors by the end of the weekend!

Pinup contest - each year a Miss Symco calendar is made from photos of the pinup contest winners.

Burlesque show - I missed it this year, but last year it was highly entertaining! Here is a (not very good) video of the 2012 show.

Mini bike drag races - Lots of people bring their mini bikes to Symco Shakedown. You'll see them zipping around the grounds all weekend long. There is a mini bike parade and drag races, too.

Get your hair did - Whether you are male or female, there is a place to have your hair done. It isn't long before all the men look like greasers and the women are sporting victory rolls.

Swap meet - This goes on all weekend. Vendors set up tables and sell their vintage wares all throughout the campgrounds. You can find anything from vintage clothing to spare car parts.

Food vendors - There were more food choices this year than last. The Burger Barn is a permanent fixture right in the middle of all the action. They serve burgers and chicken during the day, but if you get up early enough, you can catch a breakfast of ham, eggs and pancakes there, too. Vicky's lunch wagon has a killer Italian beef sandwich and beer battered fries. There are other vendors, too, and if you walk up the street a bit, there are a couple of bars that serve food.


David McMurray on March 23, 2014:

I'm David McMurray. I am a pin up photography and I just got back from Arizona. telephone nu does anybody have any information?

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