INK-N-IRON: IN APPRECIATION OF TRADITION THAT’S KEPT ITS ROUGH EDGESBy Greater Long Beach
The Ink-N-Iron Festival’s annual celebration of tattoos, hot rods and ‘50s fashion is becoming a Long Beach tradition that, thankfully, still includes plenty of rough edges. Although the three-day event officially opened on Friday, the real energy arrived Saturday when crowds of retro-rebels—fans of polka dots and cherries—blotted the foggy Long Beach shores as they converged on a single historical artifact, the festival’s venue: the Queen Mary.
The ship is historical not only for its trans-Atlantic voyages, but also for its importance in modern tattooing. Not only did it host a now-famous one-off tattoo expo in 1982, but its mooring in Long Beach harbor makes it a vital part of the city’s waterfront, which has long been a hub for west coast tattoo culture.
Passport buses provided free shuttle service from downtown to the Queen Mary, and by midday crowds of rockabilly aficionados were waiting to get into the festival grounds. Among the crowd, bare flesh was the minority and—as expected—tattoos of all shapes and sizes adorned the skin of even the youngest attendees (one baby sported authentic-looking temporary tattoos on her arms).
The Queen Mary’s parking lot was transformed into a sprawling car show. Classed-up vintage cars were numerous, but basic amenities for the car fans were low. Some girls relieved themselves by crouching near low-rider Impalas and Ford Galaxies, resorting to Kleenex pulled from their handbags for toilet paper, while men were forced to find far and unoccupied corners. To replenish, more lines at the bar awaited those festival-goers not savvy enough to get their pre-game on or sneak in a flask (which may or may not have been easy). Caramel corn and cigarette butts dotted the ground, ensuring event cleaning crews would have work to do later.
Aboard the Queen, the buzz of needles filled the air where world-famous artists displayed their best work. Musician and tattoo artist Dan Smith of LA Ink was a crowd favorite and spent the day fighting off girls asking for pictures. Booths from all over the country sold merchandise and artwork well into the night.
Women stomping and balancing around the grounds in boots and pumps had clearly decided that fashion was a higher priority than comfort. Cleavage spilled out of corsets and bustiers on all floors of the ship. By late afternoon the pomp and volume of hair had grown considerably fuzzier and the night breeze was definitely welcomed.
At the outdoor music stage, The Vandals and The Adolescents put on energetic shows where people of all ages rocked out. After a marathon sound check and a limber act from an aerialist who twirled and suspended her body from a huge curtain hanging from the stage, headliners The Sonics finally started their much-anticipated set. The legendary garage band put on a surprisingly energetic show (given their ages) and played through crowd favorites such as “Strychnine” and “Money” along with several songs from their most recent EP. The show was so entrancing that one particularly drunk fan attempted a stage dive but ended up on the pavement as people were too lost in the melodies of decades-old, down-and-dirty rock ‘n’ roll to catch him.
When the last lights on the stage flipped off and the hordes of drunken greasers pleaded for lost phones and cigarettes on their way out the gate, the familiar quiet of idle water returned to the shoreline. Police could be seen doing their final run-throughs, but the smiles on their faces signaled that the event had gone off without a hitch. Despite the long lines and steep drink prices, Ink-N-Iron held its own as a distinctly Long Beach attraction, proving that old guys (and ships) really do rule.