By Jimmy Perlman
Unfortunately I don’t get to most tattoo conventions anymore. I know and hear about tons of great shows all over the world. Fact is, I work in a field that has me traveling between six and nine months a year so when I’m home from work it would be a real shit move to tell my wife and kid “alright now I know I was gone for a month working but I’m gonna go to this city for the weekend and hang out with some friends, have a good time and get tattooed.”
Now, fortunately I have a family that understands how important those weekends are to me and that if there is something one of us truly loves and is passionate about, that is relatively safe, we should support each other, “If you need to go, I want you to go.”
I started really getting into the convention circuit around 1995-1996 and towards the mid-to-late 90s there was already a decent amount of annual national as well as international shows. Shows like The National Tattoo Convention , Ink ‘N Iron and Inkslingers Ball sort of paved the way for a convention vibe that had a real friends and family feel, as well as showcasing a blossoming art form.
Throughout this period in the mid-to-late 90s there were two shows in particular that everyone in the industry, including me and my peers always tried to get to, and those were the Richmond and Atlanta Tattoo Arts Festivals put on by BIRD and hosted by Billy Eason and Tony Olivas.
These conventions were fuckin’ killer! They had great tattooers, great hotels, good times and Billy and Tony! Billy was a crazy and mildly frightening old-timer who ran a few shops and had a booming voice, big rings, a fucking cane, white beard… the works. He was awesome! Exactly what anyone who knew some shit thinks of when they think of a classic old school tattoo shop owner, not necessarily a saint but a colorful character.
The other partner in crime then was Tony… Tony is a mellow, motorcycle riding good southern shop owner and smokin’ black and grey tattoo wizard! I’m not quite sure if the principle reason these two shows were so goddamn great was because these two gentlemen put love, heart and soul into them but that’s a good place to start.
When I began to talk to some tattooer friends of mine about their spring plans, the word on the streets was a ton of folks in the tattoo community were either going to hang at or going to work the 4th Annual Roc City Tattoo Expo in Rochester, NY put on by Jet, Shane and Love Hate Tattoo.
There were enough people I love and wanted to see going that I booked a flight, which just so happened to be two days after getting home from an eight week tour… Ugh! Somehow, I knew this was going to be a show I didn’t want to miss, and fuck I was right! What a well-done convention. Jet has over a decade and change doing the tattoo convention thing and four years in on this thing. They have got it down.
There is something to be said for invite style conventions, some may look at it as a limiting factor, like if the artist isn’t famous enough or bros enough then he/she may not be asked to join, etc. I don’t see it that way, I see the weeding out of possible negative elements like scratchers that just happen to want to pay for a booth so they can blast rap-metal try to fuck everything that walks, flash their sick choppers and do shitty tattoos.
Jet was also explaining how they didn’t want suppliers at the convention so that inks, needles, etc. weren’t even in sight or available to the public. I definitely liked that. Something that may be commonplace that I thought was true veteran thinking by those guys too was in the check-in packet every booth received a menu from a great restaurant run by their friends that would deliver your call-in order right to your booth… Genius. (Again, I don’t get to these things that much anymore, maybe this is standard now?) This show seemed more like the feeling I remembered from those RVA/ATL shows I mentioned before, and it was great! Tattooers having a blast everyday and even before the weekend started!
I got into the Radisson Riverside in downtown Rochester around 10:30 p.m. on Thursday and this hotel was super-hospitable with late-nite food and bar and great attitudes! I knew the weekend was headed in the right direction when I saw Danny Reed, Brian Bruno, Swed and Mike Rennie and they had rented a van to drive from North Carolina to Richmond, VA all the way to upstate NY and had just gotten to the hotel from Niagara Falls!
I miss those kind of road trips, and this was the kind of convention you’d road trip with your boys to! The hotel lobby was feeling more like a destination for tattoo travelers, like a Port Authority of trouble makers or almost Woodstock like. Everyone got in early because everyone wanted to be there!
Only a few blocks away was The Dinosaur Barbeque that had unbelievable food a great atmosphere, and the balls to handle a three-day onslaught of tattoo conventioneers with big eyes and bigger guts. I think everyone made it there at least once, and the Dino put a few heavy hitters on their backs for sure!
By Saturday at 1:00 p.m. the whole place was a bee-hive! Packed! I mean packed! There was a point come 4:00 p.m. everyone was tattooing, really, everyone! I shared a room with Steve Turner who probably sold at least 15 machines over the weekend along with tattooing non-stop. Him, Heath, Megan, and Matty from Hell Bomb Tattoo in Wichita Kansas, great tattooers and a serious tat-shop, had many times when all four were tattooing, it was great!
Lots of the usual suspects were killing it all weekend; Justin Shaw, Danny Reed, Henry Rodriguez, Dawn Cooke, Brad Fink, Keet, Chad Soner, Jason Phillips, Greg Christian, Krooked Ken, Bruno, Rennie and Jeremy Swed but I also got to see some unbelievable tattooing by some lesser known to me, but by no means lesser quality tattooers like Clifton Boggs, Ian Dana, Skye James, Marie Sena, Marina Inoue, Ezra Haidet and Tony Derigo, who is a true gentleman, we need more like him in this business!
No convention gathering would be complete without the usual partying and or late-nite-ing that always seem to accompany such an event and there was certainly no shortage of that, again let me re-state that this hotel was not only fully tolerant of the shenanigans and attitudes of standard post 3 a.m. tattooers, but casted an understanding. Parent-like eye rolling when the security busted a good-hearted drunken tattooer pissing on the wall in front of the lobby. Hey, it’s happened to all of us?
Drinks, dice and good vibes filled the after-hours of the Roc City Tattoo Expo site and come Monday morning all in attendance were hiding behind sunglasses on the way to their planes, trains or automobiles…
I want to thank Jet, Shane, Love Hate Tattoo, the Radisson Riverside and all of the great people who hung out and worked the expo for a fantastic weekend! This is what tattoo conventions are supposed to feel and run like.
Jet, I will be coming back for sure and since this was the first convention I’ve been to in years where everyone, yes everyone had a blast… I’m sure they all will too. I never heard one complaint from anyone, and during a time when you can go to a convention EVERY weekend that’s saying something. Keep it up guys.