Every September, one event that I look forward to is Mario Barth’s Inked Out Tattoo and Music Festival. Yeah, the name of the festival is the same as my column, but it is what it is, right? Anyway, it’s one of the conventions that I actually look forward to because there are a lot of friends walking through and tattooing there, but best of all, it’s where I got my first tattoo. So, the New Jersey Tattoo Convention has some sentimental value for me.
Only Mario Barth, whose name has become synonymous with tattooing, at least in the North Jersey area and Las Vegas with his well-branded Starlight Tattoo, has the means put on the biggest tattoo and music festival in the U.S. Walking into the Meadowlands Expo Center in Secaucus, NJ might seem a little intimidating at first when you see a bunch of Hell’s Angels prospects just standing there, but these guys, who also have booths inside the convention to sell their merch, also seem to keep things in line. They don’t mess with anybody and no one really messes with them. Then again, who would want to?
This year, Mario and company added some live music to their list of events. On Friday night, my bros from Saint Caine performed an acoustic set with former Hades/Non-Fiction guitarist Dan Lorenzo, who actually has been working for Mario on putting this whole event together, performing on a couple of songs. On Saturday, the day that I went to the convention, Georgia’s Lullwater performed an acoustic set followed by another acoustic set by one of New Jersey’s best voices, Jimmy Gnecco from Ours, later that night. I have to admit having two of Jersey’s best singers—John Kosco from Saint Caine and Jimmy Gnecco—under one roof is pretty damn cool, but this is a review about tattoos and not music. That being said, Kosco stuck around the rest of the weekend to tattoo and showcase his shop Sacred Souls Ink Tattoo Studio in Denville, NJ. John told me that this was actually his first convention tattooing and he was having a blast.
One of the first booths that I stopped at was actually a shop from Saddle Brook, NJ, where I grew up. The name of the shop was Handsome Devil Tattoo, and it’s owned by my buddy Russell Kelley, singer of Hollywood Kills. It seems Russ is doing pretty well for himself with his new shop and his booth was pretty busy too. A couple of aisles away, I ran into Russell’s former partner in crime at Silk City Tattoo in Hawthorne, NJ, Christian Masot, whom I’ve seen now at a few conventions including the one in Philly. I wasn’t sure that Christian even remembered me since he was one of the first artists that I actually interviewed for this column, but when I went to say hi, he knew right away who I was and was very gracious with his greetings. His artwork and colors are still quick to catch my eye.
These weren’t the only tattoo friends that I ran into at this convention. On the same aisle as Christian, I ran into my buds from Tattoo Garage in Bloomfield, NJ. Owner Chris Langford has always been so friendly to me and my friend Paula Lopez, who was last year’s Inked Out Artist of the Year and also tattoos out of his place, but Paula had already left for the day, so I missed her on my visit to this year’s convention. My friends from Physical Graffiti in Linden, NJ were also there, but when I got there, owner Paul Nolin had also already bounced. The buzzing in this place was killing me because it gave you the itch to just jump into one of those chairs for more ink. And what better place to get it than a place where some of the best tattoo artists in America were all under one roof?
The local artists were in-house full force, but there were also many from out of Jersey, including artists that have even been seen on TV like Ink Master season one winner Shane O’Neill, the super-hot Christine Barnum, Chris Saint and Jersey Joe Meinwieser, all from Oxygen TV’s Tattoos After Dark and Lalo Yunda also from Ink Master. Okay, not all of the out-of-state tattoo artists were TV celebrities, but they spanned from Bobby Tyrell in Detroit, Michigan, to the guys from Foolish Pride Tattoo Company in St. Petersburg, Florida, to Urban’s Tattoo in Arlington, Texas, to as far as Boris Tattoo in Hungary, who by the way was simply amazing. We watched him tattoo Zeus on some guy’s arm and Boris’ shadowing was nothing less than fantastic. I must’ve went back to look back at his work a few times because I was that blown away.
The one out-of-towner that I look forward to every year, and is a close personal friend of Mario Barth’s, is none other than the legendary Horitoshi, who is the master of tebori, the traditional Japanese technique of tattoo that dates back for centuries. I brought my future brother-in-law with me to the convention this year and he’s been pretty fascinated with the Japanese culture as of late. He’s even started going to Japanese church and started learning to speak Japanese. Well, I thought that Horitoshi was something that he needed to experience. Needless to say, he was speechless and in awe of what he was watching. Like there is every time Horitoshi does tebori, there was a crowd surrounding his booth watching, and this time my future brother-in-law joined them. Now, he wants one. Great! What did I do?
Aside from tattoo artists, music and burlesque performers and the Hell’s Angels, Mario always proves to have some sort of star power at his events. I remember one year, Ice-T and CoCo were there signing autographs. This year, Chuck Zito, who played Frankie Diamonds on Sons Of Anarchy and Chucky Pancamo on Oz was there signing his biography and on Friday night, my bros Eddie Trunk and Don Jamieson from That Metal Show were there signing autographs with the lovely Jennifer Leah Gottlieb, who is better known as Jennifer Miss Box of Junk.
I guess once you’ve been to a few tattoo conventions, they all start to look the same with the same tattoo artists and the same type of artwork. I like the way Mario and his crew tried to make this more like a festival by adding music performances to the day’s events, and it’s always something that I look forward to every year. I mean, what more can you ask for? Motorcycles, good music, hot chicks (sometimes almost naked because they’re getting tattooed), celebrities, and the best tattoo artists the world has to offer. I already can’t wait until next year’s! I guess I’ll just have to go to Philly’s in February to keep myself content.
Well, I’m off to check out my next tattoo spot! Who knows what state it will be in! If you have a tattoo shop that you want to suggest, please e-mail me the name of the place and whom I should ask for at firstname.lastname@example.org.