Now, this car could be system-matic. It could be hydro-matic, ultra-matic. Why, it could be greased lightning!
— John Travolta (as Danny in Grease)
To some people, a car is nothing more than two pairs of tires, a steering wheel and a gas tank — a Honda Accord is no better than a Jeep Cherokee is no better than a 1965 Ford Mustang. A good car is one that runs without making any suspicious noises.
Actually, at a time when gas prices are skyrocketing and air quality is waning, it gets even worse than that: To some people, there is no such thing as a good car. To some people, cars are nothing more than a necessary evil; the less a car acts like a car, and the more it acts like an electric golf cart, the better.
John Parker pities those people just a little bit. You could say he feels a tad differently about cars and motorcycles than your average American. You see, to Parker, founder and organizer of Primer Nationals, a hot rod / kustom kulture festival hitting Seaside Park this Labor Day weekend, cars are so much more than simply a way to get from here to there. To Parker, cars are works of art, personal representations of style, the cornerstones of a kulture. Well, not all cars … hot rods.
And by hot rods, Parker doesn’t mean fancy, shiny cruisers that some silver-haired guy with a lot of money paid someone else to put together (although he wouldn’t keep those guys out of his show if they wanted in) he means just about any car that was built in America before 1965. The festival’s slogan is, “Where prime is not a crime,” meaning a car doesn’t need to be crisply painted, it doesn’t even need to look all that pretty — a layer of primer is fine. Cars that are still under construction are just as welcome, if not more, than cars that are all slicked up.
Truly, it’s an all inclusive club, and the only thing Parker wants out of the Primer Nationals is for people to have a good time, which is why he and his wife, Jenny, have turned the event into so much more than a hot rod show. “Kustom kulture” is a term used to apply to the hairdos, music, fashions, vehicles and artwork of the people who drove and built custom cars between 1950 and now. In that spirit, the festival isn’t just about the cars; its centered around the entire kulture: the music, the fashion, the art and the spirit.
This is the fourth year that Parker has been putting on the Primer Nationals, but if you ask him what’s particularly special about the 2006 installment, he’ll tell you that this year they’ve really stepped up the music. So what kind of music accompanies a kustom kulture festival? Imagine Buddy Holly with a bottle of Jack Daniels and a mean pompadour, or Elvis Presley singing in Spanish backed by a rowdy surf band. That’s the kind of music you’ll find at this year’s festival, not to mention on Friday and Saturday nights at the Hoedown at the Bowling Alley (for more info. definitely check out www.primernationals.com). Some fabulous rockabilly and surf bands, like the Dynotones, will be on hand, as well as DJ Flattop Tom, who’ll be spinning in between acts.
“Robert Williams is the Dalai Lama of kustom kulture society,” says Parker, explaining the significance of artists in the world of kustom kulture. Williams, whose work has been purchased by the likes of Nicholas Cage, Leonardo DiCaprio and Johnny Depp and featured on a Guns N’ Roses album cover, will be at the festival, along with 20 or so other artists, selling prints of his controversial paintings.
The wall of death
And as a grand finale, Parker has one more trick up his sleeve: the Wall of Death, a carnival act circa 1930 that is pure Americana. It is “the grandfather of extreme motor sports,” says Parker, while explaining that the act consists of daredevils riding their antique motorcycles inside of a cylindrical wooden stadium until they are completely horizontal — i.e., parallel with the ground.
“[The festival] is a kaleidoscope of automobile everything …” explains Parker. “We all go to the same church, the church of the internal combustion engine.”
The Primer Nationals Kustom Kulture Festival and Swap Meet takes place at Seaside Park on Sept. 2 and 3, with Hoedowns at the Bowling Alley taking place on the nights of Sept. 1 and 2. For more information, visit
or call 216-2421.