Slow & Low Celebrates Midwestern Lowrider Culture
Written by Vocalo Radio on October 20, 2023
Slow & Low: Chicago’s Lowrider Festival returns to Navy Pier’s festival hall on Oct. 21. Co-founder Lauren Pacheco stopped by the Vocalo studios to discuss what attendees can expect.
Mark your calendars, get ready to immerse yourself in art on wheels and join the festivities at Navy Pier for a day that promises to be low and slow, but high on energy and culture. On Saturday, Oct. 21, Navy Pier’s festival hall is set to host Slow & Low: Chicago’s Lowrider Festival, which promises to be an unparalleled celebration of lowrider culture and a vibrant testament to the diversity and richness of Chicago’s cultural heritage.
Founded in 2011, Slow & Low celebrates lowrider culture and heritage as an original form of American folk art. In an interview on Vocalo Radio, co-founder Lauren Pacheco shared the festival started with humble origins, bringing together about 50 cars in the alley behind her and her brother’s Pilsen gallery space. In the years since, it has evolved to bring together more than 300 cars, 100 motorcycles and bicycles and an array of artistic experiences.
What started as a small gathering in the Pilsen community has grown into a massive, curated showcase and celebration. This festival shifts its focus on presenting lowriders not just as vehicles, but as mobile canvases, each telling a story deeply rooted in Mexican American identity and cultural history.
“We want people to enter our festival hall and to look at these cars and the bicycles and motorcycles as objects of art,” Pacheco added. “They are functional, of course, but the beautiful muralism, the beautiful upholstery, the stories that are attached to them, the names that are attached to them are so incredibly beautiful.”
While Slow & Low has traditionally occupied outdoor spaces, it moved indoors last year to Navy Pier’s festival hall. Pacheco explained the festival’s organizers have strategically integrated artists and created new experiences within the 170,000 square foot venue, like a floral installation and photo booths.
Tickets are available for purchase online at chicagolowriderfestival.com or at the door. Children under three years old can enter for free.
Nudia Hernandez: Vocalo Radio, Chicago’s only urban alternative. 2:09 on your clock right now. We’re gonna get to the music that you love to hear on Vocalo, but you know we also love telling you about all the events, all the happenings around Chicago, all the things that are going on, because there’s so many! But you need to be at some of the most important ones. So we have one right here, joining us right now, we have Lauren Pacheco, hello!
Lauren Pacheco: Hey, hey, hey!
NH: She is the co-founder of the Slow & Low Chicago Lowrider Festival. Established in 2011, it’s a vibrant celebration of lowrider culture and heritage. The curated community and cultural exhibition embraces the lowrider as an original form of American folk and contemporary art. And I love this, we talked about it a little bit, you know so many artists. So many artists are close to Slow & Low. Someone who designed our mural at the front of the Vocalo studios!
LP: Sentrock, yeah!
NH: You’re like, “Oh, yeah, he’s a friend.”
LP: And Latino!
NH: Yeah, I love that. I’m so happy to have you on. The Slow & Low Chicago Lowrider Festival is happening this Saturday, October 21, 10 a.m. to 8 p.m., here at Navy Pier, the Vocalo headquarters. And I believe Jesse de la Peña is gonna be there. You’re putting him to work!
LP: He’s gonna be spinning, yeah! We have three stages across the venue this weekend, and he’ll be on one of those stages. Yeah.
NH: Nice. You’ll see Jesse out there on the ones and twos, working on the weekends! We like to see it.
LP: He’s an icon. He’s a Chicago icon. So we had to have him a part of the project.
NH: He is! When you founded Slow & Low, what was kind of your inspiration?
LP: Yeah, you know, my brother and I are the co-founders, myself and Peter Kepha. It was really a brainchild and an idea on his end, he was really interested as a young person into the lowrider culture, as an enthusiast, as an observer, the car sort of aesthetics, the characteristics, the muralism, that entire scene. When we were developing a creative art space in the Pilsen community, he expressed interest in like, “Maybe we can organize kind of a meet up lowrider cars, in the alley behind our gallery space?” And it really just became an idea of really sort of organic and sort of natural and out of just this particular interest, this childhood interest. That first sort of gathering was about 50 cars, and it’s grown to over 300 cars, which has been just really fantastic. We’re not part of a car club or a bicycle club, we’re really just enthusiasts and wanting to uplift it as a curated community cultural event for the city of Chicago.
NH: I love that, I love having Chicago organizations on that started like this! It started as such a little idea, like we’re just gonna hang out at this alley. And then it grows, and now you’re having it a Navy Pier with 300 cars.
LP: Yeah, at the iconic Navy Pier, right? I mean, such an amazing civic space for Chicagoans. But historically, we’ve been outdoors, we take over four city blocks in the Pilsen Industrial Corridor. But post-pandemic, we really have recognized that we grew out of our space, and it became complicated in terms of, how do we manage the safety of our guests and our exhibitors? And so we had started conversations with folks here at Navy Pier. Going indoors, we kind of lose that outdoor element, the sky, the trees, the cement, that sort of city infrastructure.
NH: The way it shines on the car.
LP: Yeah! And moving it indoors gives it a different type of a feel. And so Peter and I have really been leaning into, how do we sort of think really curatorially, about creating new experiences for people, and the exhibitors inside of this 170,000 square foot venue? Where we’re dealing with sort of floor fluorescent lights, brick walls, and so we really sort of thought very strategically about how do we integrate artists? How do we create new experiences? How are we doing sort of like photo booths and some of these experiential types of activations?
NH: I love that! So that’s what people could expect when they stop by Saturday.
LP: Absolutely. So you’re gonna, after you go through security … you get in with security, safety first! And then you’ll enter the venue, stepping into this amazing floral installation by an artist and florist, Tanya, who is going to integrate cars and motorcycles and bicycles and pedal cars, along with this beautiful installation of flowers. So you’ll just sort of be impacted by the sense of this little floral imagery, and then you’re gonna step into the venue where we’re gonna have over 300 cars, over 100 motorcycles and bicycles, four photo booths with photos that you could print out and take home with you. We’ll have a dedicated kids area, because we know parents need a break, so you can have them explore the kids zone. We’ll also have 40 vendors. So these are creative entrepreneurs, largely BIPOC, largely female, and they’ll be in the festival halls, selling all of their wares and artistic objects. And again, we’re gonna have three stages, live performances by folkloric and other cultural groups.
NH: I love that, I always wanted to be a folklórico! It was my little dream.
LP: I know, me too! Those dresses and braids, right?
NH: I was looking, there are some adult classes in Chicago, too!
LP: We’re never too old, we’re not too old.
NH: That’s true. I’m gonna live out my 5 year old dream!
LP: That’s right.
NH: But I love that. So three stages, it’s so much more than just showing up and looking at some cool lowriders.
LP: Yeah, it’s not a car show, is what we really want folks to recognize. It’s not a competitive space, it is a family-friendly space. We want people to enter our festival hall and to look at these cars and the bicycles and motorcycles as objects of art. They are functional, of course, but the beautiful muralism, the beautiful upholstery, the stories that are attached to them, the names that are attached to them are so incredibly beautiful. And there are people behind it. There are people who are hard-working, people who have invested thousands of dollars into this.
NH: Their whole life is about the car, yeah.
LP: For sure, for sure! And have engaged creatives of all disciplines to make these objects sort of take shape. And so when you come there, we want people to really see them as an art object, rather than going to a car show. Nothing against car shows, but we want people to sort of…
NH: It’s a different space.
LP: Yeah, it’s a different space, for sure.
NH: I love this, I think this may have been pulled from your website, but you guys said you recognize lowriders as mobile canvases.
NH: Representing a form of resistance in a voice for Mexican American identity.
LP: Yeah, many of the murals on the hoods or on the side of motorcycle tanks are connected to some type of cultural identity, a particular cultural story, right? Some historical moment. And they’re telling stories as they’re driving along on streets, which is really so incredibly fantastic. But I think it’s important to recognize that lowrider culture is an American phenomenon. When we think about hip-hop and we think about jazz as being these American inventions, so is the lowrider culture and the movement which started in the 1940s in LA. Some people can argue that it started for us in a town in Phoenix, Arizona. Regardless, it is an American invention that has become this multi-billion dollar global phenomenon, which is really an important moment and note for people to sort of recognize.
NH: Yeah, I told you before we started this interview, originally I’m from LA, so lowriders always give me a feeling of home. Especially with the Chicano movement being so prevalent in LA, when I heard about this, and since Jesse always pitches me things he’s gonna be DJing at. He’s like, “I’m gonna be DJ’ing at this, let’s have them on the show.” When I saw it I was like, “Oh, my gosh.” A lowrider festival is so crazy, because I always recognized it with West Coast. But then you think about all the important facets of the Mexican American community in Chicago. And I was like, “Oh, my gosh, this is so cool.”
LP: I think a lot of people also recognize that lowrider culture might be a coastal kind of phenomenon. Or in Texas, or in the western states. But Saturday, we’re gonna have 87 car, bicycle and motorcycle clubs represented, and these are Midwest chapters.
NH: I was gonna ask that – are people coming in or this is Midwest?
LP: It’s largely Midwest, but we do have people driving in. They’re on the road right now as we speak with their trailers.
NH: Oh, that sounds fun.
LP: Oh, yeah. Absolutely.
NH: And so again, if you’re just tuning in, I am speaking to Lauren, the co-founder of the Slow & Low Chicago Lowrider Festival for 2023. It’s happening this Saturday, October 21, Navy Pier 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. Three stages, over 40 vendors, you said, and then about 300 cars that are going to be displayed at the fest.
LP: 300 cars, over 100, and probably now 115, motorcycles and bicycles, over 20 DJs, seven live performances throughout the venue. And we’ll have merch, we have official Slow & Low merch that people can pick up! So it’ll be a great day.
NH: Where can people go for more info and to buy tickets and things like that?
LP: You can go to our website, chicagolowriderfestival.com, and follow the link to pick up your tickets or you can buy them at the door at one of the kiosks. If you want to avoid lines, we recommend that you grab your tickets online.
NH: And then kids under 3 are free.
LP: That’s right. If your kid can fit in a stroller, they can get in for free.
NH: If they can pass!
LP: That’s right, but we really wanted to keep our ticket prices as low as possible and work closely with Navy Pier on that.
NH: Love that! And thank you so much, Lauren Pacheco, for being on with us. We appreciate you stopping by Vocalo!
LP: Thank you, I’ll see you on Saturday!
Learn more about Slow & Low by following them on Instagram.
Interview and audio production by Nudia Hernandez
Written introduction by Blake Hall
In-studio photography by Morgan Ciocca
Transcription and editing for length and clarity by Morgan Ciocca
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