Following a pause during the pandemic, the Kirkwood Route 66 Cars & Guitars Festival returned last weekend, drawing thousands of people to downtown Kirkwood.

The last time the festival was held was in 2019, which was the third year for the annual event. The three-year pause did little to diminish the passion and pride the community has for the event. That passion was evident in downtown Kirkwood on Saturday, June 11, with a crowd of 8,000 to 10,000 people, according to event organizer Donna Poe.

“It was a very good turnout,” she said. “We had more cars participating than ever, so the event footprint was a little larger than in years past. And, people began arriving earlier than in years past for the festival. It’s difficult for me to say that it was a record turnout, but the event organizers were very pleased with the number of people who came to the festival.”

Johnny Barton, who works in Kirkwood, said he was glad to see so many people out and about for the festival.

“It (the festival) was a lot bigger and badder than I thought — badder in a good way,” he said.

Not surprisingly, the main talking point of the Cars & Guitars festival was the collection of old, unique vehicles. The lineup proved to be far from the standard muscle car, including everything from 1930s Ford Model A’s, and vintage Ford and Chevy pickups, to dune buggies and old Army jeeps.

There was even a Kirkwood police officer displaying a collection of older model police vehicles such as a 1968 Harley Davidson motorcycle and an old prisoner “paddywagon” that he let children get their photos taken in.

Kevin Crawford, owner of a 1965 Chevrolet Chevelle, said it was his first time participating in the festival and he was pleased with the great turnout.He was enjoying himself, and pleased to share the details of his vehicle with interested observers.

Onlookers were impressed by the cars, as well as the pride the owners took in their vehicles. Festival attendee Doug Rushing commented on what “an incredible collection of great cars” were on display at the event.

While the car show was a main draw to the festival, the vendors, hospitality and live music didn’t disappoint in blending together to create a great atmosphere for an afternoon in Kirkwood. One man who calls himself “Retro Al” of Retro Al’s CBG displayed his skill of crafting guitars out of cigar boxes. Another guitar-inspired vendor, Jerry Pesch, was showcasing his guitar artwork out of metal parts.

Not to be overshadowed by the cars and guitars, the music was also a hit at the festival. The Kirkwood School of Rock held a performance as a prelude to the main events of the evening. The live music started on East Jefferson at 4:30 p.m. as the Blue Sparks took the stage highlighted by their standout chrome bass and teal blue drums.

Crowds gathered at both the East Jefferson and West Jefferson stage, where the Southside Creole Boys made their appearance around 5 p.m. The crowds only increased as the night went on, and people danced and cheered as the sun went down. The live music continued until 11 p.m. with performances from Black Magic and Dr. Zhivegas, Nashvegas and Retro Boogie.

P.J.’s Tavern, Mike Duffy’s, Mission Taco and others provided food and drink for the public throughout the event, with food trucks outside of some of the businesses to keep up with the high demand.

The Route 66 Cars & Guitars Festival proved to be a successful community event that brought car and music lovers alike together for a wonderful day in downtown Kirkwood.

Ryan Luetkemeyer is a journalism student at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln and is interning with the Webster-Kirkwood Times.

Photos by Diana Linsley