When Simon Cantlon turned 40, he did what any reasonable person would: he threw himself a big party and quit his job. "I was kind of over the corporate world," says Cantlon, who worked in the digital media and entertainment industry in Boston, New York, and L.A. for 16 years. And while the money was great and the hours were ideal — acupuncture in the middle of the day, events at night — Cantlon was no longer feeling creatively inspired.
So, about eight years ago, Cantlon ditched the corporate entertainment world of L.A. and set off in pursuit of something a little more organic. He traveled around the country and stopped in Charleston, where his mother had moved in the late 1990s. "In the late '90s you couldn't pay me to live here," says Cantlon. "But as I spent more time in Charleston, I fell in love with it. I thought, 'Well Charleston is blowing up.' I could see where it was going and that I could do my own thing here."
And do his own thing he did. Cantlon, the one man mastermind behind Vive Le Rock Productions, puts on quirky, fun, and usually free events all over town. Past (current, and upcoming, too) Vive Le Rock Productions events include: Tiki happy hours at Tin Roof, drag brunches at the Royal American, an EDM boat cruise, national days of chocolate and jokes at Rusty Bull Brewing Co., and Park Circle's annual Rockabillaque.
"Rockabillaque has grown into its own thing," says Cantlon. "This year we're expanding it, adding more days leading up to the big event and a headliner show on Sunday night." Cantlon first had the idea for the popular rockabilly festival somewhere quite far from North Charleston: New Mexico.
In that in-between time post-L.A. and pre-Charleston Cantlon traveled Route 66, working on a documentary. He stopped in a little Route 66 town in New Mexico and said, "You guys should do a rockabilly festival." The people in this town didn't really know what Cantlon was talking about, so he explained the subculture of rockabilly. Naturally, they suggested that Cantlon himself should put on the festival. So he did. And the event thrived for years, until Cantlon decided to retire it and focus on North Charleston's Rockabillaque.
The event, which takes place every November, is a mish-mash of live music (think rock 'n' roll and country), pin-up contests, and tons of classic cars. Local bars and restaurants participate, offering drink and food specials. All of Park Circle turns out — it's a family friendly block party, what's not to love?
"It's the mayor's favorite event, so we're working with the city on it," says Cantlon of Rockabillaque's effect on North Charleston Mayor Keith Summey. "He has like 10 classic cars."
While Rockabillaque is arguably Vive Le Rock Productions' bread and butter, it's not time-consuming enough to fulfill all of Cantlon's creative needs. "I seem to be drawn to events," he says with a shrug. But he can afford to be particular about the events he puts on, and there are a few must-haves on his list. "I wanna go to an event that's affordable and fun. I don't like covers. I don't like people to feel like their wallets are being emptied out," he says, noting that he tries to get event sponsors to pay any participating bands.
Cantlon also likes it when his events can give back to charities he cares about; most recently a Royal American drag brunch donated a portion of proceeds to We Are Family, a local organization that provides support, resources, and leadership development opportunities to those in the LGBTQI community.
Inspired, or rather, uninspired by the events he saw in L.A. — ones that catered to the gay community but required covers and just featured house and electronic music — Cantlon produces Punk n Drag, which, as he says, "mixes the gay element with rock 'n' roll." While he says that events like Punk n Drag have had a bit more success in bigger cities, he sees the interest in Charleston growing.
"People are moving here from all over," says Cantlon. And while a lot of us bemoan the hotels and the increase in the cost of living and the traffic that comes with growth, Cantlon is right, the more people the city draws, the more diverse our community becomes. "There's a lot of counter-culture starting to happen here. That's a sign of the city expanding."
Cantlon has plans for expansion, too, his sights set on bigger and better events in the coming years. "I want to push myself out of the box," says Cantlon. He mentions that he has the trademark to Wave Fest, the big ol' music festival 96 Wave used to put on. "It's a big endeavor," admits Cantlon, who wants to do something with the trademark, but isn't quite sure what yet. He knows it will involve some help — he's used to doing everything himself — and big bucks.
Until then, Cantlon will be churning out fun, funky, and free events, at venues near you. "I'm not making what I made in the corporate world, and the first few years were lean," he says. "I love that I don't have a 9-to-5. I work until four in the morning if I want, I can take a half day. The thing about being self-employed is you work every day. That's definitely part of the life, but it doesn't really bother me. Like I said, I love what I do. I like to grow things."
The next Vive Le Rock Productions' event is Tiki Happy Hour: Hawaiian Luau at the Tin Roof on Wed. July 10, 4-8 p.m. No cover, duh.