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66 Bowl gets a proper send-off with rowdy rockabilly, custom cars and loud locals

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Okie Twist-Off featuring Psychocharger, The Straight 8's, The Hickoids and more
8 p.m. Friday, noon Saturday
66 Bowl
3810 N.W. 39th
www.okietwistoff.com
$10 Friday, $15 Saturday,
$20 two-day pass

The four-man crew behind Okie Twist-Off is a motley one.

Jeff Beck, owner of Beck's Garage, is the strong-armed mechanic who first had the idea for the rockabilly music festival and car show, and has managed the vehicular end of the event since year one. He hatched the idea with his friend and concert promoter John Manson, who also performs in the local psychobilly favorite Billy Joe Winghead. Manson has since booked the national and local bands for the festival each year.

When the duo looked for a venue, they turned to another friend, Michael Haynes, who helps run the 66 Bowl with his family, and found what would be the festival's home for four years.

Then there's Brian Dunning. Although he doesn't help organize the festival, he's just as much a part of Okie Twist-Off as the others, having performed at all of them with his band, Brian Dunning & The Rock n Roll Trio.

Each armed with an assortment of piercings, tattoos, mutton-chopped jawlines and a collective hate of Morrissey ("I've got this dog that whines," Dunning said), they make for a pretty rough-and-tumble crowd. Despite the rough exterior, the four share a soft spot for 66 Bowl, a Route 66 icon and local hub for all things rockabilly.

That spot is a little more tender now with the news that the legendary bowling alley hangout will put away the pins and close in September, forcing Okie Twist-Off to find a new home in 2011.

Beck and Manson came up with the idea in 2007. They had traveled to events devoted to "kustom kulture" (a vintage blend of American rockabilly and punk art, car and fashion culture) like North Carolina's Sleazefest and California's Hootenanny. Knowing the strong support Oklahoma had for such a scene, they decided to organize one.

"We wanted to make a multilevel, cultural event with music, cars, art and vendors," Beck said. "A commingling of all the underground stuff " rockabilly, punk, psychobilly " something that everybody likes."

"We said to ourselves, 'We know all this stuff, let's try one on our own,'" Manson said. "So we did, and it only felt natural to do it here in (66) Bowl."

Beck set about organizing the car show, while Manson booked bands. The inaugural event went off without a hitch, attracting a crowd bigger than imagined.

"We were expecting a couple of hundred people to maybe show up," Manson said. "Instead, it almost hit the thousands."

The past two years have been just as well-attended, with crowds swelling to more than 1,500. Part of its success is in no doubt due to anything of its sort happening in the area. Manson said that acts from across the region (even the country) have begged for return bookings. Beck added that Okie Twist-Off has become a mandatory stop for car clubs in Oklahoma's bordering states.

But the fans are the ones most anxious for the annual event, being that they don't have too many other options.

"No one in Oklahoma is doing anything like this to my knowledge," Haynes said. "This is the premier event for rockabilly culture here."

And it's for these people, and the pats on the back, that prompt organizers to continue to put the festival together every 12 months, despite all the work.

"We just have this audacity to just pull it off again each year," Manson said. "It's like being addicted to lottery tickets ... or self-mutilation."

The fans have done all they can to make sure the event continues. For the record, San Diego Comic-Con International has had more violent altercations than the Twist-Off has had in its brief history; so far, the tough-and-tatted crowd has restrained from getting into even a single fight, Haynes said.

"I love that all these beautiful freaks can just come together and have fun," he said. "It's just a positive thing."

"It's like people realize what we've got, and they don't want to ruin it," Beck said. "For some reason, the good Lord has taken a shining to us and given us good, positive people."

Heavenly help aside, the fest's home base has been struck with the same problems plaguing locally owned businesses across the country.

GUTTER BALL

In May, the Haynes family announced it was putting 66 Bowl up for sale. Beck and an Edmond Realtor tried to find investors to buy and preserve the alley, but the search proved fruitless, and the property was sold to Spices of India in June. The changeover was timed so that organizers could hold one final Okie Twist-Off in the place that made it all possible.

"They took us on faith, and we have had a perfect relationship," Beck said. "Without the 66 Bowl, there wouldn't have been an Okie Twist-Off."

The loss of the alley doesn't only affect bowling fans, but fans of rockabilly culture at large. The alley not only gave birth to the Twist-Off, but has hosted national rockabilly acts like The Flametrick Subs and Bob Log III for years. It pains the whole group to see the place go.

"It's going to be sad when it happens. This has been my band's home. I take my kids bowling here," Manson said. "The Twist-Off and the rockabilly scene, these things will go on. The 66 Bowl will live on ... and it will continue to be an icon even when it's gone. But it will leave a hole in my heart when it's not here."

66 Bowl was one of the long-lost pieces of vintage Americana that rockabilly culture constantly sniffs out, and Dunning just sees this obstacle as another challenge.

"It's not going to hurt rockabilly culture, because the people who are really into it, they don't mind having to seek things out," he said. "That's part of the fun, to dig and find."

Manson said Okie Twist-Off will carry on next year, and that the founders are actively seeking a new venue. If they don't find one, they'll make one, he said.

"As long as the culture and the passion is there, there will be places to go, even if we have to manufacture it ourselves," Beck said.

Thus, this weekend's Okie Twist-Off is ultimately a celebration of 66 Bowl itself.

"We just want everything to be top-notch for the bowling alley, so we can give them the event they deserve for everything it has done for the community," Beck said.

Said Haynes, "It will be a beautiful send-off."

As painful as the loss of 66 Bowl is to this four-man crew, the members plan on keeping the spirit of the Route 66 site alive through the festival in the incarnations to come. After all, that's what rockabilly is all about.

"66 Bowl had one foot planted in the history of the Mother Road, and the other foot planted in the possibilities of where to go," Manson said. "To keep the spirit of the 66 Bowl " and what made it special to us " alive is for the Okie Twist-Off to keep on with that aesthetic, to remember where this came from and realize it needs to go somewhere, too." "Joshua Boydston

Top photo 66 Bowl. photo/Andrew Laker
Bottom photo Psychocharger.

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