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Still cruising
After all these years

Picture the scene: A warm Saturday night in Modesto. Dusk is approaching and the downtown shops and offices have locked up and turned the signs in their windows from open to closed. Maybe in the distance you can hear the low rumble of an engine as the car makes its way to 10th Street. It won’t be long before this is the domain of teenagers cruising a circuit along 10th and 11th streets, yelling out to one another as the cars slowly pass by with the sound of Rock n’ Roll lofting out the car radios and providing the night’s soundtrack. Likely, before the cruise comes to an end, the flirting between one car full of girls and another full of boys will end with both cars parked at Burge’s drive-in.

This is a ritual that will play out over and over again each weekend and will come to symbolize a moment of youthful innocence and possibilities that will be immortalized in Modesto native George Lucas’ film “American Graffiti.” In doing so, Modesto’s future will be linked with cars and cruising for decades to come.

Modesto has had its ups and downs with cruising in the past, but has come to embrace this slice of American culture and now celebrates it annually with Graffiti summer.

The 2021 American Graffiti Festival & Car Show, the oldest and largest of Modesto’s Graffiti-related celebrations, will be Aug. 20 to 22, and will feature hundreds of classic cars in a Friday evening parade downtown and on McHenry and a Saturday and Sunday car show and music festival at the Modesto Muni Golf Course at Tuolumne Boulevard and Roselawn Avenue.

This is the 22nd year for the event, sponsored and organized by the Kiwanis Club of North Modesto. Net proceeds go to local youth programs. 

The show is expected to draw more than 1,000 classic cars and trucks – 1979 and earlier – from throughout the West.

The weekend opens at 6:30 p.m. Aug. 20 with a parade on downtown streets and out McHenry Avenue and back. Because of congestion in previous parades and changes in downtown streets, this year’s parade is limited to the first 800 car show registrants. Street closures will begin about 3:30 p.m. Aug. 20.

Fewer cars should mean the parade moves along steadily, explained Brent Burnside, festival chairman. “We know the owners want to ‘cruise’ the route more than once, and the spectators want to see as many of these beautiful vehicles as possible. We hope this will make it a better parade for everyone.”

There is no limit on entries for the Aug. 21 and 228 festival and car show, where spectators can walk through rows of vintage and classic vehicles. 

“Sunday also will feature some contemporary muscle and specialty cars as we try to merge the generations of all car cultures,” Burnside said. “This is a family event for everyone.”

The festival also features a lineup of top local rock bands, a variety of food, craft and other vendors as well as a beer/wine garden. Festival hours are 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Saturday, Aug. 21, and 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. Sunday, Aug. 22.

The live music includes Seve Botello as Elvis from 11 a.m. to 12:30 Saturday, followed by Third Party Band, performing 1950s, ‘60s and ‘70s music from 12:30 to 2:30 p.m. Triple D will wrap up the Saturday entertainment from 3 to 5 p.m. with more ‘60s to ‘80s rock. The popular tribute band Threshold, performing the music of Chicago, War and other bands, will entertain from 11:30 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. Sunday. The awards presentation for top cars is at 2 p.m. Sunday.

Spectator admission to the car show and festival is $10 per person, with children 12 and under free. Tickets will be available at the gate or can be purchased in advance through EventBrite. Service dogs only at the show; no pets.

Owners of classic vehicles may register for the show online at The cost is $65 per vehicle through Aug. 8 and $75 after that date. Packet pick-up and late car registration will be from 1 to 5:30 p.m. Friday, Aug. 20 in the Modesto Junior College Ag Building at College and Coldwell avenues. Once the 800- vehicle limit for the parade is reached, registration for the show and festival only will continue. The registration fee includes one festival T-shirt. Others will be available for $25 each. For more information: email or call 209-447-5962.