Rounding up the hot rods

by Christiaan Mader

The first Bayou Roundup Car Show will bring hundreds of classic cars to the classic streets of Lafayette.

Johnston Street is gonna rumble come Oct. 16 and 17, with upwards of 500 classic cars heading to Blackham Coliseum for the first-ever Bayou Roundup car show. Roaring steel, plumes of exhaust, pomaded hairdos and lots of flame decals will be spotted around the city thanks to a hot list of restaurants and bars curated by festival organizers for the hoards of car lovers traveling to Lafayette from around the country.

The event is an offshoot of Austin’s Lonestar Rod and Kustom Roundup, also presented by Austin’s Kontinental Car Club, which began 14 years ago on a high school football field with a humble fleet of 80 hot rods and has since grown to feature 2,000 at the Travis County Expo Center.

Festival organizer Steve Wertheimer, proprietor of Austin and Houston’s famed Continental Clubs and, by some accounts, the de facto mayor of South Austin, says Louisiana has long been a love of his. When he decided to branch his car show out to the Pelican State, Lafayette popped off the map. He has ongoing work relationships with Lafayette-based music and travel organizations through the annual “Lafayette Live” showcases held in the Continental Club during the South By Southwest conference and festival; in fact, Lafayette bluesman C.C. Adcock has partnered with him on the local show.

The personal connection for the detail-oriented Wertheimer was essential for an extension of his brand. Proximity to Texas was a bonus, and the ease of travel within the Hub City (I know, I didn’t really think he was serious either) edged Lafayette over New Orleans, the other dog in the drag race. (Once he compared our ease of travel to New Orleans, I realized he wasn’t crazy.) But Lafayette’s provincial charm sealed the deal for him.

Lafayette’s “small town” vibe reminds Wertheimer of the simpler pleasures of mid-70s Austin. The idea of hosting a car event in an area with such broad and colorful cultural exposure intoxicated him. Speaking with him on the phone he beams about our town with the giddiness of a parent about to watch his kid open a present.

“Lafayette feels like a small town with a lot to offer. The restaurants and experiences are unbelievable. We’re gonna send some of those guys [visiting hot rodders] to La Poussiere and they’re gonna freak,” he says.

The event will feature lots of food and scores of vendors along with live performances by Texas and Louisiana greats like Houston’s Archie “Tighten Up” Bell and Tommy McClain, along with a swap meet in the show barn behind Blackham. Thirty-two handpicked and handsome hot rods will roll straight into Blackham’s showroom floor to hold court as the festival’s top show dogs.

Believe it or not, Blackham’s dust and dilapidation is what sold Wertheimer on the venue. That attraction, he reports, confused local location scouts who helped him find a spot for the show.

“When we went to Blackham and we saw that space, and I was like ‘holy crap this is where it needs to be.’ It’s incredible,” he says. The folks around me were like ‘are we talking about the same place?’”

Part of our conversation seems like a lament for the Austin of his youth, when he was a newly minted University of Texas Longhorn with a crush on the blues. He’s a man still dug in for the Texas capitol’s well-being, committing 40 years to Austin as a restaurateur, club owner, neon-light impresario and car repairman. Hearing about all the balls he’s juggling over the phone, I’m picturing him with at least seven hands. That’s the only way he can be so hands-on and impressively thorough with his projects. If you’ve been to South Austin, in particular the stretch of Congress Street just south of the river, you’ve seen his gift for entrepreneurial preservation. He tells me he’s purchased more than a couple of businesses on that side of town just to keep them open, hanging on with a firm grip to the one-story charm that’s wilting under the shadow of the sun-glaring high rises across the river.

“Lafayette’s a lot like Austin used to be. That Borden’s Ice Cream place. Judice [Inn] hamburger joint. Those are the sort of places that Austin used to be full of. They’re disappearing in Austin. They’re all getting paved over,” says Wertheimer.

Whatever his reasons for coming, the event is easily the first of its kind to hit Acadiana, which makes it a fun curiosity for folks outside the world of hot rod worship. It's already catching attention among Wertheimer’s circles of car lovers scattered around the country. Since registration opened July 27, 100 cars have signed up, and Wertheimer expects that number to keep growing as word gets out. Tickets for the two day affair will be available on site only for a mere $10. That’s a pittance for a chance to bask in some classic American steel.