Thirteen years is a long life for any festival, and in that time, Ink-N-Iron Kustom Culture Festival has left its mark on local tattoo culture in more ways than one. While master ink slingers have always been the anchor of the convention-turned-festival since it began in 2003, it's the bands, cars, clothes, motorcycles and fans that have allowed this summer event to set the pace of many such conventions to follow.
But even in a world that thrives on permanent ink, nothing lasts forever. Organizers of the event told the Weekly that this year marks the final Ink-N-Iron in Long Beach, as the festival prepares to move to Nashville. The June 12-14 bash — headlined by Pennywise (Friday), Killswitch Engage (Saturday) and Peter Murphy (Sunday), and featuring more than 280 tattoo artists from 30 states and 25 countries — will be Ink-N-Iron's last to buzz nonstop inside the hull of the Queen Mary.
For more than a decade, the iconic ship has been the summer meeting grounds for artists, vendors, gearheads, rockabillies, pinups and punks, now drawing well more than 60,000 people over three days. Even in the early days, Pennywise guitarist Fletcher Dragge remembers the event being a hub of culture (sorry, kulture) for any outlaw within driving distance. “I was going there before we ever played it,” says Dragge. The event has been so popular over the years that, he says, his tattoo shop, 3rd St. Tattoo in Hermosa Beach, is still on the waiting list to get a booth there. “I've been going there for years as a fan of tattoos and cars and bikes and music. … It was the lifestyle of Southern California all rolled into one.”
As an independent event, Ink-N-Iron started adjacent to the ship at the Pike, with the intent of showcasing the premier talent of the tattoo world. That model was slowly overtaken by the inclusion of big-name bands such as Iggy Pop & the Stooges, Suicidal Tendencies and The Offspring. Ironically, the festival's success in the live-music game is what seems to be driving it out of Long Beach. The monopoly of SoCal's live-music industry by the big boys of Goldenvoice and AEG, combined with the oversaturation of festivals in the market (including the annual Musink festival in Costa Mesa) and difficulties getting some artists to honor contracts and commit to appearances, are why Ink-N-Iron's organizers have decided to start again elsewhere.
“Although it's become a staple over the past 13 years, there's no reason to beat our heads against the wall when booking agents are taking contracts, and then breaking the contracts,” one organizer says. “And because Ink-N-Iron is a one-time-a-year event, some of the booking agents and bands don't feel they need to respect the black words on the white paper in a contract.”
When it comes to punk, rock, hardcore and rockabilly bands, Ink-N-Iron's organizers have featured just about every band they'd want to put on a bill (in some cases, multiple times). And there's the risk that rehashing the same show for years on end is bound to get stale. That's not to take anything away from the diverse array of artists on tap this year, all of which fit loosely together in the niche of stylish, old-timey outlaw culture. Where else would you get to see Wanda Jackson opening up for Pennywise?
Among the beloved recurring bands playing next weekend are the Adolescents, the members of whom have also performed with their outside projects. For Adolescents bassist Steve Soto (who still gets confused with the famous local tattoo artist of the same name, even though he doesn't have any ink), Ink-N-Iron still takes pride in its blending of old- and new-school artists onstage and in the convention halls. “You could go watch the punk rock show outside, or you could go inside and see Phil Alvin and some really cool roots bands playing, so there was definitely a cool mix of both,” Soto says.
This year, there's also a lot more art. The additional installations — as well as street, car and performance art — will be strategically placed throughout the festival under the banner Art Gathering LA. After this year, organizers say, Art Gathering LA will take over as the lead event where Ink-N-Iron once stood. Though it will retain its tattoo component, it will cater to what organizers describe as a growing and thriving SoCal scene of artists, collectors and gallerists.
They're not exactly wrong. There have been very few big events celebrating the local art scene aside from the LA Art Show. And considering events such as Art Basel in Miami are one segment of entertainment the big concert promoters haven't monopolized, organizers say it's the best route for them to stay relevant in the L.A. market.
Meanwhile, the rest of the Americana-flavored decadence and debauchery, which the event touted during its 10th anniversary, will remain intact this year, including all the car shows and sexy pinup and tattoo contests.
The event's move to the Music City happens almost simultaneously, with the new chapter opening less than two months after the festival in Long Beach. Nashville's inaugural Ink-N-Iron will happen at the Municipal Auditorium, Bicentennial Mall Park and Fairgrounds Speedway Nashville, with the tattooing once again taking precedence over the live music. In addition to bigger names like country legend Merle Haggard, prog rockers Coheed and Cambria and Sharon Jones and the Dap Kings, the music aspect will focus on true OG's of Americana, with living legends from '50s label Sun Records including Carl Mann, Linda Gail Lewis and Sleepy LaBeef.
Will Ink-N-Iron ever be the local giant it once was? Maybe not. But the organizers say it's been one hell of a ride on the shores of Long Beach. “We want to thank all the attendees of the past 13 years. It has been our privilege to create so many people's life memories and even marriages,” organizers say. “We hope that you will explore what Art Gathering LA has to offer you [in] summer 2016.”
Ink-n-Iron Kustom Culture Festival, featuring performances by Pennywise, Wanda Jackson, Killswitch Engage, Hatebreed, Peter Murphy, Gary Numan and many more, aboard the Queen Mary, 1126 Queens Hwy., Long Beach, (800) 350-8850; longbeach.ink-n-iron.com. June 12-14. Visit the website for times. $42.50-$170. All ages.