Starting in the 1950s, draggin’ Main Street in Clovis, New Mexico, was a popular pastime. Cruising the town’s “main drag” was a Friday night ritual with a long line of cars, bumper to bumper, slowly creeping down Main—windows rolled down, radios blasting rock & roll, engines revving, kids hollering, and lots of laughter. This was how teens and young adults enjoyed their weekend social life. It was a way to meet friends, find dates, and check out four-wheeled rivals.
In 2017, cruising Main Street and rock & roll were once again reunited at Clovis’ Draggin’ Main Music Festival in the marriage of two separate events, Draggin’ Main and the Clovis Music Festival. Now more than 15,000 music and car fans gather in late June to cruise Main Street and listen to classic rock and country music. Cars, cruising, and music—early expressions of freedom in small-town America—are back.
The Clovis Music Festival
Clovis, considered one of the birthplaces of rock & roll, boasts deep roots in the music industry with the famed Norman Petty Studios on West 7th Street. Clovis native Petty formed the Norman Petty Trio with his wife Vi and guitarist Jack Vaughn in the early 1950s and hit the big time with chart-toppers “Mood Indigo” and “Almost Paradise.” After opening the studio in 1954, Petty became an influential record producer, manager, and sound engineer, quickly gaining a following among West Texas musicians. Petty encouraged and recorded early rockabilly icons like Buddy Holly, Roy Orbison, Buddy Knox, and Waylon Jennings. Petty produced over 40 of Holly’s songs in 18 months, most selling millions as either singles or on albums. Country music star Jennings first recorded at Petty’s studio in 1957 and played in Buddy Holly’s band The Crickets until Holly’s untimely death in a 1959 plane crash.
Musicians call the rock & roll that burst from Petty’s studio the “Clovis Sound,” a distinctive blend of West Texas twang and rhythm and blues. It was Norman Petty’s musical genius, perfect pitch, and dedication to perfection that created the Clovis Sound, along with his studio’s design with slightly curved walls and a faint echo. Buddy Holly made the unique Clovis Sound famous around the globe and influenced the future of rock music. Even John Lennon and Paul McCartney, who first met Holly at a British concert in 1958, mimicked his Clovis Sound on their first couple albums and named their group The Beatles in a nod to Holly’s band The Crickets. McCartney later bought Holly’s sound catalog off Petty in 1973. The Rolling Stones covered Holly’s “Rave On” for their first hit single.
After Petty died from leukemia in 1984, his wife Vi started the Norman and Vi Petty Music Festival in 1987 to keep the distinctive Clovis music alive and rockin’ as a memorial to Norm Petty’s legacy. Iconic rock musicians performed at the Mesa Theater, site of a second Petty studio on Main Street, to celebrate the role and impact of the Clovis Sound on modern music. After Vi Petty passed away in 1992, the annual event continued until it went on hiatus in 2002. A few years later it was revived as the Clovis Music Festival.
Now the festival is a three-day extravaganza that features three major concerts—country, the 1950s, and rock & roll. Rock fans from around the world flock to Clovis to hear a variety of bands and take guided tours of Norman Petty’s 7th Street studio and the Norman and Vi Petty Rock & Roll Museum on Main Street where music history was made. Past performing artists at the festival include Lou Gramm, former lead singer of the ‘80s rock band Foreigner; The Killer Vees, a celebration of ‘50s teen idol Bobby Vee; Steelheart; Doug Stone; the Tejano band Grupo Mezcal; Grammy winner Michael Salgado; and even Sherry Holley, Buddy Holly’s niece.
Draggin’ Main Street
Draggin’ Main, a nostalgic event to relive the Clovis of the 1950s and ‘60s, began in 2014 as a celebration of car culture, America’s great love affair with the automobile, and 70 years of cruising up and down Main Street on Friday nights. Every day during Draggin’ Main, car guys and gals take over the streets of Clovis, showing off their hot rods, muscle cars, pickup trucks, motorcycles, lowriders, and vintage vehicles.
The wide variety of motor events includes races at the High Plains Motor Speedway with an open sprint car race and street stock, superstock, and SportMod racing; a nightly tour of different classic Clovis drive-ins including Twin Cronnies Drive-In, Taco Box, Wienerschnitzel, and Foxy Drive-In (where Buddy Holly would order take-out taquitos for his band); a full-day Gearhead Gathering for auto aficionados; and a Crank It Up Car Stereo Contest with the “loudest stereos within 1,000 miles.”
The highlight of the festival takes place on the last evening: an action-packed Draggin’ Main Cruise from 5 p.m. until midnight. The evening cruise is a throwback to 1958 with thousands of packed cars slowly driving up and down Main Street. Just don’t forget to fill your gas tank!
Celebrate Clovis in Late June
Visit Clovis during the last week of June and rock out to great music, check out classic cars from Corvettes and Chevys to Mustangs and Camaros, and take a cruise down Main Street. Keep an eye on the festival website or call the Clovis/Curry County Chamber of Commerce at (575) 763-3435 for an updated schedule.
Written by Stewart Green for Matcha in partnership with New Mexico Tourism Department.