Watertown’s public square took a trip back in time on Saturday for the Fabulous Fifties Festival, a tribute to the decade featuring rockabilly, period fashion, classic cars and more.
The Tennessee Artist’s Guild organized the celebration after COVID-19 prevented the Watertown Jazz Festival, and the inaugural event was a hit with residents and tourists alike.
“There’s a lot of good art movements that happened in the ‘50s, and we wanted to highlight that,” Tennessee Artist’s Guild Executive Director Vickie Frazier said. “We decided last year what our calendar would look like, and had plans for the train to come from Nashville on about three occasions.”
The Tennessee Central Railway Museum brought in dozens of travelers eager to compete in a ‘50s-themed costume contest or check out the cruise-in car show. Alaina Brown and Jonathan Boerner made their trip all the way from Pensacola, Florida.
“We were looking to spend Labor Day weekend in Chattanooga, and she’d never been on a train before,” Boerner said. “We found this through a Google search and saw there was a costume contest, and started looking into it.”
Brown said the two wanted to capture the feeling of “Mad Men” with their costumes, and she ultimately placed second in the competition.
“We based it on what I felt like wearing, and I found this really pretty blue dress,” she said. “I was surprised but excited to win second, and it’s just fun to be a part of something like this.”
Brown and Boerner also took the time to visit Watertown’s local businesses, browsing Jim’s Antiques and sharing a light meal at The Adopted Farmhouse. Those experiences were like any other day in the city, but the sights were tailor-made for the festival’s shop window contest.
Depot Junction Café transformed its storefront into a 1950s diner, complete with a mannequin standing in for a waitress, while the Watertown Public Library went for a record store theme.
As they walked by the window, attendees could hear the music playing thanks to Nashville rockabilly tribute band Good Rockin’ Tonight. The group performed throughout the evening, only taking short breaks for contest announcements.
Each of the evening’s contests offered cash prizes, and Frazier said the setup was unique in particular for a car show.
“We’re doing something different with our cruise-in than most,” she said. “Everyone that comes through gets a goodie bag, which is what they expect, but the top three will get money prizes and it’s a people’s choice award. We didn’t want to restrict it by decade, and we wanted all kinds of cars — rat rods, new, old or modified.”
Pharaohs Car Club of Music City member Jason Anderson won first place in the cruise-in with his 1961 Willys Sedan Delivery. The vehicle proved popular with the crowd thanks to its realistic wood paint job and roaring engine.
“It’s a perfect day when you get to hang out with 15 or 20 of your family members,” Anderson said, referring to the other entrants from Pharaohs. “I know it sounds cliché, but with everything going on in the world right now, when you come to a car show there’s no racism or face-ism. We talk about cars, and we aren’t worried about what’s going on in the world for a bit.”
The car show saw more entrants than any of the festival’s other competitions, and was also a big draw for visitors. Despite the foot traffic, Frazier said the city felt it could safely hold the event without putting people at risk for COVID-19.
“With this one we felt the numbers were down enough and people have been careful,” she said. “We also knew that everyone coming in on the train was getting their temperature checked and would have masks. People needed to get out, and we were ready to do at least one event.”
Frazier said the festival was the first time some of Watertown’s residents have been able to leave home for an event since March, and its success means they can expect more decade days in the future.
“I’m thrilled by the turnout, and I honestly wasn’t expecting this many to come,” she said. “We’re a little town of 1,500, so when you have 300 to 500 people out in one place it really makes an impression.”