Long Live The Queen

Published: 01 November, 2008 - Featured in Skin Deep 166, November, 2008

The 5th Annual Ink 'N' Iron Tattoo Festival

Oh my God! They did it again. Tattoos, music, custom hot-rods, carnival rides, pin-up girls, booze, art, burlesque and beautiful people... everywhere! Eye candy in all directions, a constant stream of over-stimulation to my brain, and all onboard a historic 1930s ship that sits quietly moored in Long Beach, CA, know to the greater world as the Queen Mary.

Her Haunted Royal Highness is a gracious host to the international Ink ‘n’ Iron festival. Now in its fifth year of existence, and although I’ve yet to see a ghost (and believe me, it’s not from lack of hunting), there’s something mysterious going on about this ship. She grabs hold of you, she twists and turns and spits you out – leaving you confused and exhausted in such a brilliant way that you’re not too sure how you feel as you travel home. Now mind you, that could also be due to the incredible expo that Trace Edwards and Riun Van Driessche put on every year. These guys blow me away.

The festival ran three full days this year at the beginning of June. I arrived on Friday, ready for a killer weekend. After having attended last year’s event, I knew exactly what I was in for. Or did I? Trace had warned me about the scope of this year’s expo, and apparently he wasn’t kidding. If we’re talking about the basics, then we’re talking more space for custom cars and bikes, bigger stages, more food and more vendors. But if we’re getting down to the nitty-gritty then I should mention the stilt walkers co-mingling with the crowds, the aerial showgirls performing amidst the three open levels of the atrium exhibit hall aboard the ship, an incomparable collection of tattoo artists from around the world, a killer musical line-up including over forty bands, a burlesque show whose audience filled to maximum capacity every performance, a comprehensive art exhibit featuring work by some of the world’s top tattooists, a pin-up pageant of twelve gorgeous ladies and one long-ass-run-on sentence. To sum it up, the Ink ‘n’ Iron kicked a whole lot of ass!

The numbers? 280 artists from thirty states and twenty-five countries represented all the tattoo styles – and the machines were buzzing constantly throughout the three levels of the atrium. I saw some incredible work entered into the Best Of Day competitions from Jess Yen, Robert Hernandez, Roman, Timo, Horitada, Lucy Hu and countless others. Best Of Day on Friday went to Jess Yen from My Tattoo and Saturday’s went to Timo from Urban Art Tattoo, with Sunday’s claimed by Kody from Outer Limits.

A small stage indoors played host to the daily tattoo contests and was home to the aerial showgirls and hosted some of the live music throughout the weekend. It seemed that special consideration was taken when booking the acts for the indoor stage, so as not to blast into oblivion all possibilities of verbal communication with the working artists – a consideration that was much appreciated. In the outside realm, three stages pumped groovy music into the minds of the masses. There were some great sets from Black Rebel Motorcycle Club, Old Bull, Diablo Dimes, Old Man Markey, Wayne Hancock and countless others. The main stage and concert area was set up inside the massive Queen Mary dome – her dark walls hung above us like the night sky – echoing madly.

I spent Sunday afternoon in the Queen’s Salon, sipping on cocktails with my younger brother, seated front and centre and transported through time by ‘The Leg Show; Centuries Of Takin’ It Off!’ If the walls could speak on this ship, they might just speak of days past when groups not unlike ours gathered for celebration, community, theatre and life. The Leg Show was a dazzling tribute to burlesque acts of yesteryear and was such a big hit that they had to turn folks away at the doors due to overcrowding.

It is entirely possible that Saturday night was spent drinking copious amounts of tequila and running around the ship hunting for ghosts, but as no witnesses have come forth, we’ll just move on...

Sunday was a day to soak up the sun, wander amidst the pre-1963 hot-rods and Kustom Car Show that twisted through the grounds and last but definitely not least to experience the Pin-up Pageant sponsored by Gasoline Gallery and Sneaky Tiki. These ladies worked hard to get here, going through a couple of rounds of online voting that whittled the group down to its final twelve contestants. The crowd was massive, the competition still, and the lovely Sabella rang true as the 2008 Ink ‘n’ Iron Pin-Up Queen.

So why host such a massive international tattoo festival in Long Beach? Long Beach has earned itself a central position in the tattoo world, not only with her current draws but also with a cultural history dating back to the days of Bert Grimm’s World Famous Tattoo, the longest operating shop in America. A culture blossomed that influenced today’s godfathers of the American Tattoo Industry; names like Ed Hardy, Bob Roberts, Lyle Tuttle, Col Todd, Bob Shaw and Phil Simms. It makes sense then to be continuing such a tradition with a modern twist – Trace and Riun have organised this tattoo convention in Long Beach based on a desire to pay tribute to the great tattoo art tradition that has been in this area since the 1920s. And what a better locale than an ancient (and possibly haunted) ship with such a rich and international history? I have the feeling the Queen Mary has more than a few fresh tattoos in her future.


Text and Photography: Brittany App (www.appsphoyography.com)


Skin Deep 166 1 November 2008 166