How the local auto scene and Wekfest grabbed the world’s attention, through youth and fully embracing the powers of social media.
For a majority of people, the idea of a California-based car show revolves around lowered vehicles, loud mufflers, dynamic paint jobs, loud music, bright lights, and wet T-shirt contests. It’s a surface-level understanding of a misunderstood subculture that has often been presented to the world through television, movies, pop culture, and Vin Diesel. For others, these shows and the cars being highlighted represent a whole lot more: a culmination of high-quality engineering and the personalities that go into creating these machines.
Enter Wekfest (pronounced “weak fest,” a tongue-in-cheek tribute to the amazing car builds and their not-so-modest owners), a San Jose–based car show, whose goal is to capture car shows, car enthusiasts, and the youth culture in an entirely different light. Starting out in a parking garage in San Francisco’s Japantown, Wekfest has gone on to become a tour with seven national tour stops, as well as their first international stop in Nagoya, Japan. In its fifth year, Wekfest has grown from the locals’ favorite car show to an international tour, garnering the attention of a worldwide audience.
During its early years, the show focused on JDM (Japanese Domestic Model) builds, but it quickly pivoted to being the home of any type of car build that offered a unique personality. Currently, the show itself acts as a museum of sorts—carefully coordinated by a panel of judges who go through hundreds of entries to put forth the most dynamic personalities available. From trucks to wagons to American muscle cars and even Teslas, Wekfest soon became the car show for all people who put their hearts and souls into their vehicles. As the show grew out of the Japantown parking garage and into Fort Mason in San Francisco, The Queen Mary in Long Beach, and beyond, the way in which Wekfest differentiated itself from other car shows became more and more important.
Behind the new direction of the show was creative director Geoffrey Nguyen. A San Jose native, his goal was to create a car show with life, a show with personality, a show that fans could feel was their own. By changing the way car shows were covered by the press, by utilizing social media outlets at a time when no other car show was, Wekfest was able to connect with fans on a deeper level—before, during, and after the show. To do this effectively, Nguyen’s platform of choice soon became Instagram. “At the time, Instagram just handled photos better. Twitter always put media in the background and put words to the front. Being in a subculture that is visually driven, we had to move to a platform that was visual,” said Nguyen.
Instagram became the source for all things Wekfest. Its content was built around more than just cars, and it soon became the building block for creating the aspirational brand that Wekfest is today. By moving its focus away from simply cars, Nguyen began to curate content for Wekfest that allowed its followers to feel like they were traveling with the tour at all times. By pushing coverage of staff travel days, setup days, and the actual show day, Wekfest took fans along for the ride. Explained Nguyen, “We wanted to thank our supporters for being there with us since the beginning, and even though most show goers can’t go to all the shows, it was important for us to make longtime fans and new ones alike feel like they are integral to the growth of Wekfest—which they are.”
Like anything, to understand where something is currently, it is important to work towards understanding where it came from, where its roots lie. For Wekfest, it’s always been about San Jose, and to understand the show’s influence is to understand its hometown. Yes, tech is a huge influence. The show’s biggest support can been seen on its Instagram account, and while this “new tech” has certainly helped share the show’s experience with others, the core of the show is “old tech.”
Old tech, that is, the tech this generation’s parents thrived in. They’re the people who built things with their hands: tangible items that move beyond dating apps for an iPhone. For Wekfest, these feats of engineering are everything. Floating engine bays are valued over loud sound systems, spoilers, and flashing lights. For some, owning a Ferrari can be impressive enough. For Wekfest, taking that Ferrari, chopping it up, and presenting a whole new machine is what makes builds shine.
While the engineering influence can be seen in the cars, San Jose’s cultural influence on Wekfest can be seen all over the show. Taking influences from areas such as skateboarding, streetwear, music, dance, street art, food, and the cultural diversity that San Jose is touted for, Wekfest has proved itself a Trojan Horse of sorts when presenting itself to the world. Only this time, the horse is bearing gifts. By paying homage to all that influenced him while growing up in San Jose, and also urging the youth to be more adventurous and curious, Geoffrey Nguyen always aimed to entertain, as well as educate, the fans.
“We were the first car show brand to utilize Snapchat in a way that gave the followers unlimited access to our work, as well as our lives. I would Snap anything from the shoes me and my friends were wearing, to my barber cutting and styling my hair, all the way down to a bowl of Pho. Things that you and I take for granted, living here in San Jose, but I would get kids from the Midwest or all over the country who would ask me, ‘What is that? Where do I get it?!’”
Wekfest is at the crossroads of all things San Jose, and through its unwavering authenticity and undeniable style, the show has been able to bring San Jose to cities all over the world.
Article originally appeared in Issue 7.3 “Style”