RockNRods on Route 66 promoter Larry Tarantolo, left, circa the 2006 edition of the festival at Bloomington's Interstate Center.

Pantagraph file photo

Sometimes hearing how a festival is put on is as interesting as hearing about the festival itself.

Especially if the person doing it seems to be having a good time en route.

Enter Larry Tarantolo, good-time festival putter-on-er (our term) par excellence.

Larry's the guy behind the returning RockNRods on Route 66, highlighted as part of today's GO! section cover story (see above).

Those of you with extended memories may recall that Larry first turned up hereabouts in the mid-’00s, peddling the same midsummer fest ... first in Pontiac, circa 2005, then twice in Bloomington at the Interstate Center (2006-2007).

As we noted in a profile of him around that time, the Wilmington-based auto fan has a boundless enthusiasm for getting people to come see what he wants to see ... namely, anything and everything to do with the music and vehicles of the Mother Road glory days (i.e., ’50s-’60s).

For example, some people put ships inside of bottles; Larry likes to it with Route 66.

Since putting the Mother Road under glass is physically prohibitive, he went the next best route: He invented his own brand of "route" beer.

He christened it, not surprisingly, Route 66 Root Beer, and didn't have to worry about paying pesky copyright royalties since the term "Route 66" is in the public domain.

He proceeded to bottle around 1,000 cases a year, customizing the bottling for special occasions, a la the 80th anniversary for the route during the 2006 RockNRods fest. 

Then he watched the customized bottles become collectors' items and go for big bucks on eBay.

All of this has a lot to do, he told us, with growing up along 66 in Cicero and then spending his adult years in Wilmington, near Braidwood, and also situated along the route.

Larry was the kid in high school, he told us, covering the front of his notebook with phantasmagorical Ed "Big Daddy" Roth images of heavily mutated classic cars and drivers.

It helped that his family ran an automotive business.

"We always had cars," he said. "People would bring in their cars for a new radiator or air conditioner and they'd ask us, 'Would you like to buy the car?' Quite often we did."   

Later, Larry learned that there was a booming market for vintage cars in the Arizona retirement community of Scottsdale. 

"I'd run out there and bring back a cool Cadillac. The parking lots were full of cars for sale."

He made the buying and selling of cars his hobby. He also made friends with all the custom car heroes of his youth, including the late "Big Daddy" himself.

Along the way, he began pulling vendor duty at car shows, followed by bottling his Route 66 Root Beer in the early ’90s.

After seeing vendors treated badly at some of the shows he worked, and noticing other shortcomings (overpriced admissions, poor organization), Larry decided he could build a better one.

Because of that aforementioned friendship with Ed "Big Daddy" Roth, Larry corralled three of the Roth-era survivors — George Barris, Gene Winfield and Darryl Starbird — for the 2006 RockNRods show in Bloomington.

That friendship led to our personal favorite among all the RockNRods attractions to date: the 2006 appearance of the original "Dragula" roadster that Grampa Munster drove in TV's classic "The Munsters" sitcom and that was designed by the 80-something Barris (who has since passed on to that big custom shop in the sky).

Fate was on the roadster's side that summer: Just a year earlier, the vehicle had roared into the synagogue where Grampa Munster actor Al Lewis, who had died at 95, was being eulogized.

"They rolled the thing into the synagogue with Grampa's ashes in it," Larry confided.

In keeping with his campaign against the car show sins that inspired him to organize his own, he added:

"Unfortunately, we don't have the ashes."


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