Lead East Brings Back The 1950s For Labor Day Weekend

by Elsie Walker

Everything can get better, even the world’s biggest 50’s party.

For 34 years, Lead East has been bringing the sights and sounds of the ‘50s back for one magical weekend, Labor Day weekend. Held at the Parsippany Hilton this year from Sept. 1t – 4, host Terry Cook of Appleton Productions in Long Valley, shares that there will be some new features this year in response to a survey that was taken. However, the heart of Lead East remains the same: a time to get away to a happier era and enjoy the sounds of Doo Wop and see 1400 vintage cars (1972 and older) that come from all over the country for this event. Admission prices and daily schedule of events can be found on the Lead East website at https://www.leadeast.net.

“Lead East is a chance to escape the terrorism, bullying, and irresponsible behavior of people who behave terribly on the internet for all to see, yet don’t have the courage to sign their real names. It is a refuge,” said Cook.

Among the mainstays of Lead East are the Doo Wop groups, cars, sock hops, proms, ‘50s collectibles on sale, DJ The Golden Gup, Rockabilly band, Razorbacks (featuring Kenny Duda), plenty of live ‘50s music, and an outdoor movie area with classic and B movies This year the features include “Some Like It Hot” (1959) with Jack Lemmon, Tony Curtis, and Marilyn Monroe;” “I Was A teenage Werewolf” (1957) with Michael Landon and Yvonne Lime; and “Rock Rock Rock” (1956) a classic with Frankie Lymon & the teenagers, The Moonglows, Chuck Berry, The Flamingoes, Tuesday Weld (with Connie Francis’ voice dubbed in) and Alan Freed.

What’s new this year?

“There’s the return of the Prom Queen Parade where they ride around the event in convertibles enroute to the prom, unloading at front door of Hilton,” said Cook. “Also, a new outdoor venue has been added, The Gazebo, with chairs where spectators can sit in the shade and watch three groups perform Saturday and one Sunday afternoon. [This means]on Saturday and Sunday, there will be four stages with live music for people to watch who pay the general admission ticket of $20 (reduced this year); outdoor stage, gazebo, lobby atrium inside and ballroom for acappella shows.”

Among the other new features are celebrity guest Larry Erickson, chief designer of the 2005 Mustang Design Team at Ford and designer of ZZ Top’s Cadzilla, Cracklefest, Muffler Wrapping, Elvis/Johnny Cash/Buddy Holly/Roy Orbison impersonator contest with cash prize, cash prizes for best 50s dressed, and more.

Cook added, “The big news is free shuttle busses from four spectator parking lots (shuttle stops) to give spectators a ride to the main ticket booth and then back at end of day to the shuttle stops (Friday, Saturday, and Sunday) thanks to the generosity of the Hilton/Hampton Inn.”

While Lead East is about kicking back and enjoying, it also remembers something else about the 1950s.

“Giving back ties in with 50’s atmosphere because it was a more gentle, friendly era,” said Cook.

There are two Lead East giving traditions during the event: a 50/50 for Make-A-Wish and a Toys for Tots drop-off. The Make-A-Wish foundation 50/50 and children’s activities (face painting, etc.) will be in the Main Hall near the Hotel Ballroom, inside the revolving doors. Last year’s 50-50 total amounted to a record $46,215.

Make-A-Wish has raised more than $210,000 in the 13 years it has been doing 50/50s at Lead East. Also, helping to make children happy will be Toys for Tots. A drop off for unwrapped toys or monetary donations will be located in the area outside the front door of the hotel for the Military Transport Association Toys for Tots collection for the U.S. Marine Reserve unit at Picatinny Arsenal. The toys will be distributed to needy North Jersey children at the holiday season.

Reflecting on this year’s upcoming Lead East, Cook noted that he sees the event as a refuge.

“With all the bad economy, senseless terrorist, and junk you see on TV and in movies, Lead East is an escape to a little island of refuge in North Jersey where you can drift back to a better 
Time,” Cook said. “One magic weekend a year we turn back the clock, and the calendar, to celebrate the best decade in American history: the blissful, colorful 50’s.  Divorce was rare (it could end a politician’s career). AIDS and drugs were nonexistent. Kids had toy guns, not real ones. 

“You could worship God in school,” he continued. “Our society was better then…and so now one weekend a year we gather to escape the terrible music, dull lookalike automobiles, Johnny can’t read or dance, politically correct, “selfie,” bad economy, terrorist millennium we’re in today.”

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