Time Travel To The ‘50s With Lead East
By Elsie Walker
[drops]Terry Cook, of Appleton Productions in Long Valley, loves the 1950s, enough that he has found a way to share it with others for one magic time each year.
Cook is the host of Lead East, known as the World’s Biggest ‘50s party. The event boasts 1,800 classic cars, plus the movies, the dancing and music of the 1950’s This year the event will be held from Sept. 2 – 6 at the Parsippany Hilton. Admission fees and event schedule information can be founded at www.leadeast.net.
In starting Lead East 33 years ago, Cook revolutionized car shows east of the Mississippi by making his into a festival. He explained that he has always loved custom cars. Up until Lead East, car shows were events where people just stood around and looked at cars. That was it. Cook wanted to have something different. The first Lead East was held at the Flemington Fairgrounds. Cook utilized a sound system to add music to the event. Taking advantage of nearby venues, participants could go to a drive-in where car shops on skates came to take your order and Cook rented out a drive-in theater and showed the1950s classic, “Rebel Without A Cause.”
What about the title, Lead East (pronounced as “lead” meaning the metal)? Cook explained that refers to what was “used to fill in the seams in custom cars” before fillers like Bondo.
Later, as the event grew and changed locations, it added another revolutionary element: the cars on display are parked on concrete, not dirt. Traditionally, car shows had the cars parked in fields or dirt lots. Cook’s venue appeals to those who take care with their classic cars.
Another thing that makes Lead East different than other car events is that the fun never stops.
“Most car events end around 5 p.m., but [that’s when] we’re just getting started,” said Cook.
Since the early days, times have changed and the event has evolved, but one thing stays the same. It is a family- friendly event that shares the fun of a more innocent age.
“Every year of Lead East there’s been drive-in movies,” said Cook. At the Hilton, a drive-in theater area is rigged in the parking where this year people can see the classic “Return of the Creature (from the Black Lagoon),” Alfred Hitchcock’s “Dial M for Murder” and “Bwana Devil.” All are in 3D and Cook notes that during “Bwana Devil” it seems like spears are being thrown at the audience.
Cook shared that a joyful moment for him at a past Lead East was when a father shared that it was not only the first time his young son had seen a drive-in movie, but one in 3D.
Of course, Lead East would not exist without cars. The first Lead East had about 660; this year 1,800 cars from 1972 and earlier are expected. They come from at least 20 different states including Texas, Rhoda Island, and Florida. Some participants will stake out grass islands in the lot, decorate and lay claim to them with names such as Tiki Island, Rhode Island Island, etc.
The sounds of the ‘50s will fill the air with 21 bands, DJ’s and Doo Wop groups appearing during the event. This year those sounds will include “Rave On,” a group from Union that does the music of Buddy Holly, Roy Orbison and others. There will also be the a-cappella group, The Whiptones, made up of college students from Whippany. New this year, for an extra fee, spectators can attend a Friday Night Dance party with a five piece band, The Greyhounds from Poughkeepsie, teamed with the well known DJ, the Golden Gup. The Whiptones will also perform then as well.
For those who need to brush up on their footwork, there will be ‘50s dance lessons offered during the event. Featured will be “shag.” A dance known in the South, Cook explained that they call it “beach music” in South Carolina. It is like the Lindy or Jitterbox, but with a few extra steps and it is smoother, suave.
Although it is focused on the ‘50s, Lead East doesn’t forget the present and its needs. There will be a 50/50 to benefit Make-A-Wish. Last year’s winner went home with almost $20,000. There will be a collection for Toys for Tots. The Military Transport Association will be set up among the outside vendors in front of the Hilton. All toy donations collected will be delivered to the U.S. Marine Reserve Unit at Picatinny Arsenal to be distributed during the holiday season to needy children in the North Jersey area. Finally, as is tradition, Cook will “pass the hat” when he welcomes people to the different Lead East concerts. What is collected goes to the Salvation Army.
Cook said that when people have asked him about what he does, he reflects and says ”One weekend a year I make about 10,000 old people really happy.” Actually, Lead East is an event that makes all ages smile.