Route 66 News

Shake-up at the Route 66 Festival

A committee that oversees the June 9-12 International Route 66 Festival in Amarillo, Texas, recently took the responsibility for organizing the festival and its awards night away from longtime Route 66 enthusiast Jim Conkle.

In the wake of that move, Conkle has vowed to hold another Route 66 festival in Joplin, Mo., the following weekend. Conkle says his festival would include the Will Rogers Awards and Route 66 Summit.

Bob “Crocodile” Lile, a member of the Amarillo committee, was reluctant to talk about the move. However, he provided e-mails from various sources with the festival for background.

The 13-member committee includes representatives of the Old Texas Route 66 Association, the Sixth Street Route 66 Association of Amarillo, roadies, and the City of Amarillo. Without delving into he-said-they-said minutiae, the primary reasons Conkle was relieved of his duties seem to be declining attendance and revenues and organizational mistakes, such as setting dates for the Amarillo festival that conflict with the popular Illinois Route 66 Motor Tour.

In light of that, it’s understandable that the committee decided to go another direction. But Conkle says he was kept “in the dark” — no one consulted with him about changes sought. He said in an e-mail if he’d been clued in beforehand, he would have stayed on to help the Amarillo festival.

Conkle has vowed to organize his own Route 66 festival and banquet in Joplin, Mo., on June 16-19 — a week after the Amarillo event.

Although it’s not clear on the event Web site, Amarillo organizers say they’re still planning for awards during their banquet. In an e-mail, Lile said there “probably” would be awards, “but not as many as last year.” (Ten awards were given during the 2010 banquet.) Lile was reluctant to say much until the committee makes a final decision.

An e-mail, however, makes it clear that for now, “Will Rogers” will not be part of the event’s name, because the committee will not use it without the Rogers family’s approval or blessing.

Conkle says he controls the Will Rogers Awards and the Route 66 Summit and has permission to use Cyrus Avery and Bob Waldmire’s names on the awards. But it was my understanding the fledgling Route 66 Alliance would undertake much of the festival’s organization. Since Conkle was removed as an Alliance officer during a reorganization a few months ago, his claim to the Will Rogers event and Summit seems dubious.

Regardless, I am skeptical about how successful another national festival and awards event would be. Most roadies likely will feel indifferent to it at best and hostile at worst, and many have already planned their vacations for the summer. It’s hard to imagine the Joplin festival drawing much of a crowd.

In the end, one has to ask: “What’s best for Route 66?”

Perhaps Amarillo committee members could have handled Conkle’s dismissal better. But there seems little doubt they have the long-term health of the festival in mind. They want it to be viable again so Route 66 fans will keep coming. It’s difficult to fault them for that.

I have known Conkle for years and love him like a father, but his quest to create another festival and awards event seems spiteful. Advancing the cause of Route 66 and its preservation should be the goal. Instead, this seems to be retaliation, and little else. If Conkle truly has the welfare of Route 66 in mind, he needs to drop this idea and move in a more constructive direction for the Mother Road.


15 thoughts on “Shake-up at the Route 66 Festival

  1. Ken Youden

    This is an unfortunate turn of events. I’ve already booked rooms for the Amarillo Festival, and was hoping for a great weekend; my family’s first at a national-level Rt 66 Festival. And you are right, vacation dates have already been set and can’t be adjusted. I hope the Amarillo Festival proceeds and that we all keep the goal alive: Promote, preserve and celebrate Rt 66.

  2. Michael Wallis

    Route 66 Alliance
    February 25, 2011

    The Route 66 Alliance, a non-profit organization dedicated to the preservation and enhancement of the historic highway, has reorganized in order to better serve the people and places of the Mother Road.

    Based in Tulsa, Oklahoma, the Alliance was initially created in 2009 by author Michael Wallis, preservation advocate Rick Freeland, and preservationist James Conkle.

    As part of the reorganization, Conkle is no longer affiliated in any way with the Alliance but continues his own activities from his home in California. Wallis, a Tulsa resident, and Freeland, who lives in the Washington, DC area, will continue to guide, manage, and develop the Alliance.

    Both wallis and Freeland have been invited to attend the Amarillo festival in June and are looking forward to further explaining the plans under development by the reorganized Alliance.

    Further details regarding the Alliance are forthcoming.

  3. redforkhippie

    Ken: I wouldn’t get too worried about it. This isn’t the first time a ridiculous p*ssing contest has resulted in somebody trying to start a competing festival, and it probably won’t be the last. The upstarts never succeed, and the squabbles never have any significant impact on the real festivals. This is all pretty much inside-baseball stuff; unless you’re one of the planners or have some direct stake in the behind-the-scenes machinations, you aren’t likely to notice any difference in the festival itself. I could name at least three instances in which people tried to destroy an organization or a festival by launching their own competing groups/events. In all three cases, the attempts failed to harm their targets. All they did was give the organizers some momentary satisfaction at the expense of their own reputations and legacies (and probably their bank accounts, too). I was initially concerned about this ill-advised little stunt Jim is pulling, but in mulling it over, I see little reason to believe that it will bring any serious harm to the road. If it follows the usual pattern, it will provide the locals with a couple of days’ worth of cheap entertainment, raise a little awareness, cost a fortune, draw an exasperated sigh and some eye-rolling from a handful of insiders, give its creator a false and probably short-lived sense of satisfaction, cost him several friends, and vanish into the ether within two or three years of its inception. Another year, another tempest in a teapot. Welcome to the Route 66 community. It’s not perfect. Show me a movement that is.

    1. Ken Youden

      redforkhippie: I agree with about 95% of your comments. It is most likely, as you say, a tempest in a teapot. As long as there is some solid organization for the Amarillo event, then I suspect that almost all of the participants/visitors will be unaware of the trouble brewing “behind the scenes.” But as the Rt 66 movement grows and strengthens, people must be aware that blogs, news sites like this one, social media and the like all combine to make these “behind the scenes” struggles much more evident to the general Rt 66 fan. Impact on the average fan is key; as long as the impact is negligible, then there’s no impact on attendance/support. But you never want to get to the point where the average fan is declaring “loyalty” to one camp or the other. That path is destructive, disruptive, and there are no winners on either side. I want to help promote and preserve what Rt 66 is (and can be). As a fan of the road since ca. 2002, I’m a relative newcomer. But fresh blood, fresh ideas and fresh energy are what all movements and communities need. When “family feuds” occur, it can turn off fans in general. That’s my main concern.

      1. Ron

        I’m not overly concerned about it. Route 66 is bigger than any one person. Alas, that fact frequently is forgotten.

  4. David Willman

    Good comments all. Overall, not surprising, let’s hope cooler heads prevail for the benefit of all. If any awards are needed, let’s keep them short so we can enjoy the evening with each other celebrating the Mother Road in Amarillo. I hope this rift can be heeled as well.

  5. David

    I find it interesting that ‘everyone’ here seems to have decided that Jim Conkle is the bogeyman here. I would like to remind everyone that over the years, Jim has selflessly done more for Route 66 than just about anyone I can think of (and sorry Mr Wallace, but your Route 66 involvement hasn’t been selfless for a long time).
    I cannot fathom how any Roadie, or any Route 66 organization, would would even think of marginalizing Jim like has happened here (apparently on many levels) particularly when it was done by the n00bs in the very organizations that he was instrumental in starting.
    Shame on you all.

    1. crocodile lile

      Hey David, it’s ” Wallis,” not ” Wallace.” We are all trying to make a living on Route 66 and that’s ok as long as we do not take advantage of others to do it. Do not know who you are referring to as ” n00bs ” but there are a lot of folks out there working hard to make Route 66 & the festivals better who might take offence.

  6. Johnnie Meier

    Greetings Roadies,

    I think the Amarillo Festival can succeed without Conkle. After all, it is about celebrating the Route, not celebrating Conkle. I’ll be there in Amarillo, as well as many New Mexico Route 66 Association members and Board Members.

    Now, unlike Ron, I don’t love Conkle like a father, which should amuse a lot of you that know me. I think he is an OK guy in some respects, but we are sometimes not on the same page.

    As past President of the New Mexico Route 66 Association, I was faced with some difficult decisions, along with my Board members, with regard to what was best for Route 66 in New Mexico and for the sovereignty of the New Mexico Route 66 Association.

    So, I know Croc and the folks in Texas, and the Route 66 Alliance, have the same thing in mind, doing what’s best for the Route and producing the best possible event.

    Ron and others are right to be concerned about a “competing” event. A lot of the artists and vendors I know don’t have the resources to attend back-to-back festivals. Compromising attendance at the Amarillo event by creating a Joplin event will not be a good thing for the vendors committed to Amarillo.

    With Croc and his team declaring independence from Conkle, it proves what they say in the Lone Star state “Don’t Mess with Texas.”

    johnnie meier
    New Mexico

    1. Gerry Mantel

      Or as Kinky Friedman would say, “If you ain’t Texan, I ain’t got time for you.”

      Or this one of his: “I just want Texas to be Number One in something other than executions, toll roads, and property taxes.”

  7. Skip


    Just because someone starts, or is deeply involved in a cause, does not give them title or ownership to/of those causes. The person in question has left behind a path of lies, broken promises, unpaid bills (into 5 figures), and is turning into what he hates…an opportunist (carpetbagger)that chases the nearest, easiest buck. He is not comfortable that, because of his own doing, he has become reviled, irrelevant, and not trusted on the road he professes to love. Look at all his rants…he beats people up and then calls for a ceasefire. When people defend themselves and start telling the truth about him he starts telling lies about them. He truly has become a forlorn, desperate man, who has no idea how to be part of a team unless he makes all the decisions and is allwed to be the center of attention. No one person is bigger than the road, especially a person who has left a path of deception in his wake. People and the internet are exposing the person in question for what he has been for years

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