As the weather warms up in the Central Valley, the sun isn’t the only thing shining brightly on the streets of Modesto.
The annual June ritual known as Graffiti Summer has returned, bringing with it cars, more cars and all the people who love them. The monthlong series of festivities focusing on classic car culture has grown into one of Modesto’s signature annual events.
Festivities kick off in June with a slew of car shows, the annual Graffiti parade, concerts, block parties and, of course, a screening of the movie that inspired it all: “American Graffiti.” The celebration of the seminal film by Modesto native son George Lucas, which started as an unorganized and often unruly citywide cruise, has evolved over the years into a coalition of car club gatherings and city-endorsed special events.
“I think it’s evolved actually really well. We really have quite a reputation as being a cruising and classic car center,” said Jennifer Mullen with Visit Modesto. “And we’re trying to reach out to make this more multigenerational. I see it in person; there will be dads, grandsons and granddaughters, grandparents who all come out to the car shows. They’re all talking about and sharing their stories together.”
Mullen estimates the more than a dozen Graffiti Summer events through the month of June bring out at least 30,000 people. Area car clubs from the Mid Valley Chevy Club, Modesto Area Street Rod Association, F-100 Elite Truck Club and about a dozen others host and participate in the shows, which bring thousands of cars cruising into city streets.
Mid Valley Chevy Club is again hosting a series of Park-n-Shines around the city, running June 6-9, which bring in 300 to 400 cars each night.
“Well, it is something we look forward to all year. It’s something that’s made in Modesto. We are Graffiti,” said club president George E. Reynolds. “We all grew up with George Lucas; some of us went to school with him. That part of Modesto has been a godsend. It’s something that’s really helped us.”
One of the biggest attractions of the summer series will again the be American Graffiti Car Show and Festival, hosted by the North Modesto Kiwanis on June 11-12. The 18th annual all-volunteer run event will include the popular Graffiti Classic Car Parade through downtown Modesto and up McHenry Avenue on June 10. This year, some 1,300 cars are expected to participate. The grand marshal of the parade will be classic car collector Don Monaco, founder of Don’s Mobile Glass.
“It’s a part of our past that doesn’t die,” said Brent Burnside, who is co-chairman of the North Modesto Kiwanis Graffiti events. “People are eating up these old cars. We’re such a go-go-go society, but something like this brings us back. With this we can relax, enjoy our great weather in the Valley and have good conversation about the good old days.”
This year will also see the induction of more names into the Graffiti Cruise Route Walk of Fame: Graffiti parade grand marshal Monaco, the Faros Car Club, Judy Felix Walk, Glen Wild, Dwight Trammel and Frank Burnett.
The longest-running returning event will be the 23rd annual Back to Graffiti car show and celebration June 17-18 at The Fruit Yard.
Also returning are perpetual free family favorites such as the A&W Root Beer karaoke gatherings Friday and Saturday nights and Velvet Creamery car shows Wednesday nights throughout the summer.
New this year will be the Graffiti Summer Bop Greaser’s Social Ball June 18 at Tenth Street Plaza. The free community event will feature rat rods, live art displays, bands and more. Also debuting this year is the new Modesto Graffiti USA store inside the nonprofit Peer Recovery Art Project in downtown Modesto. The shop will be open year-round to sell commemorative Graffiti Summer T-shirts, cups, key chains and more.
“Everyone likes to keep honoring our hometown hero, George Lucas,” Mullen said. “We are truly the only city who can claim this. He cruised here; it happened here. It was about him. We maybe can’t claim him for ‘Star Wars,’ because we’re not really a galaxy far, far away. But Modesto and ‘American Graffiti,’ this is part of who we are. I think we have a lot of pride in that.”
Graffiti Summer schedule
Wednesday nights through the summer: Classic car shows, Velvet Creamery, 2204 McHenry Ave., free, 209-544-9029
Friday and Saturday nights through the summer: Classic cars, Elvis impersonator, hula hoop contests, karaoke and root beer floats, A&W, 1404 G St., free, 209-522-7700
June 4: “American Graffiti” screening, State Theatre, 1307 J St., $3, 209-527-4697
June 5: 11th annual Modesto Area Street Rod Association Graffiti Classic, McHenry Village, 1700 McHenry Ave., car entry $25-$30, spectators free, 209-521-6607
June 6-9: Mid Valley Chevy Club Park-n-Shines, various locations, free, 209-499-2164
June 8: Graffiti Cruise Route Walk of Fame presentation, Tenth Street Plaza, free, www.modestocruiseroute.com
June 9: MoBand Concert in the Park, Graceada Park, 401 Needham St., free, www.moband.org
June 10: North Modesto Kiwanis Classic Car parade, downtown Modesto, free, www.americangraffitifestival.com
June 10: Elvis Tribute Extravaganza, Tenth Street Plaza, free
June 11: Kingsmen, Surfaris and Token Graffiti Summer Concert, Gallo Center, 1000 I St., $19-$59, 209-338-2100
June 11-12: American Graffiti Car Show and Festival, Municipal Golf Course, 400 Tuolumne Blvd., $10 adults, free 12 and under, 888-746-9763
June 17-18: 23rd annual Back to Graffiti at The Fruit Yard, 7948 Yosemite Blvd., registration $35, spectators free, 209-577-3093
June 18: “Grease” Singalong, State Theatre, 1307 J St., $5, 209-527-4697
June 18: Modesto Nuts Graffiti Night, John Thurman Field, 601 Neece Drive, $6-$12, www.modestonuts.com
June 18: Graffiti Summer Bop and Greasers Ball, Tenth Street Plaza, free, 209-581-1695
June 26: Ninth annual Rod & Custom Car Show, Elks Lodge, 645 Charity Way, registration $25-$30, spectators free, 209-529-0366