By Jay Brown
(Additional Photos by Tad Wolf & Thom Truitt)
Few people realize that tattooing the Sturgis Motorcycle Rally rivals any convention with an intensity all to its own. The event can be anywhere from 7-12 days, and this year there were even a few artists that made it into a three-week affair and tattoo artists come from all over the country to tattoo this event...
I counted somewhere around 90 artists on Main Street alone, that’s not counting all the ones off of Main on Lazelle Street and all the side streets in Sturgis proper, or all the tattooists at the campgrounds and all the venues outside of town and all the small towns around Sturgis as well. There is no way you can cover them all so I am going to focus this article on the shops on Main St. and couple of other spots of note.
Sturgis has its air of a carnival midway, with an infusion of the hardcore biker, with the odd mix of the everyday motorcycle enthusiast, it takes all kinds. Main St. is lined with leather, t-shirts, patches, motorcycle parts, bars, you name it... If it has anything to do with a motorcycle, it is there. The Sturgis Rally has been dubbed the "biggest motorcycle rally in the world" and with well over 600,000 riders coming through in two weeks this year, I’d say they hit the mark.
For those that tattoo Sturgis, it’s been dubbed “the Iron Man of tattooing” by an article Todd Evans wrote in 1999 about the rally's tattoo experience. Sturgis has drawn massive attention when it comes to their concert venues, but this year took the cake, every night a blockbuster show guaranteed to please the crowds from 18 to 80 years old. This year performances by Ozzy Osbourne, ZZ Top, Motley Crüe, Bob Dylan, Tesla, Scorpions, Kid Rock, The Doobie Brothers, Creedence Clearwater Revisited, Disturbed and several others hit the bill, and this was just at the Buffalo Chip. Great concerts could be found at all the campgrounds. It was a stellar year for concerts, unlike any I’d seen before. They wanted to do the 71st anniversary big, I wonder what the 75th will bring?
On Main St. Sturgis there are 10 major tattoo shops, the Shop in the Hell's Angels' building next to Gunner's, Rosini Gypsy Tour Tattooing which is the oldest shop in town, Judy Parker’s Shop in the Dungeon Upstairs, Fat Cat’s Studio, Buddah’s Body Art, Asylum Tattoo, Main St. Tattoo the oldest shop in one location, The Tattoo Cellar, the tattoo shop in Mr. Al’s and one across the street from Fat Cat’s. Also there is Sturgis Tattoo in the same location for 12 years, and Tattoo Mania in the Broken Spoke and at the Broken Spoke Campground, which should also be mentioned because each of these studios have great reputations.
The shops in Sturgis during rally range in all sorts from permanent shops, convention style set-ups, and portable shops in trailers and buses. Over the years all kinds have come to be part of the Sturgis phenomenon. Tattooing the Rally is a long-winded affair as the hours are long and the work load can be heavy, most shops open between 8 and 10 in the morning and go 'til midnight or later. In the Rosini Gypsy Tour Tattooing Studio artists put in 14 hours a day for 11 days straight, this used to be only 7 days, but as the Rally crowd started coming earlier and the hours expanded. Most of the shops in Sturgis are temporary affairs, with everything from convention style tables, pipe and drape and full-on stages with pony walls and the look of a full-time shop.
One of the shops that goes all out is Rosini’s, when they are done setting up it looks like it’s been there all year-long, with six stations all on tiled stages with tiled pony walls, an office and a reception, no one would think it all breaks down and goes into the basement every year. Even the signs get removed from the building and stored. There are three shops in Sturgis that are set up as full-time studios all year around, Main St. Tattoo, Sturgis Tattoo and the Tattoo Cellar. All the other studios in Sturgis are set up just for the Rally. The number of artists in each shop varies from four in the smallest to 31 in the largest shop.
Some tattoo artists don’t work the Rally but still continue to come to be part of the show. This year Snake Yates, Cap Szumski, Don and Sharon Brouse and many others came to the Rally. Other artist came out of retirement to give it one more go, Gil Montie worked at the Broken Spoke County Line with his Tattoo Mania Crew (which I hear he will be doing every year) and Bryan Adams worked the Dungeon with Judy Parker.
Some of the Crews stay the same almost every year, at Rosini’s over 75 percent of the crew have worked there for over 10 years, and the crew at Sturgis Tattoo can say the same. Other shops have their regulars and also space for new artists as well. Every year there is a handful of new faces, or you could call them “Iron Man contestants.”
Over the years camaraderie has formed between all the shops And at the end of the Rally a group of artists from Rosini’s started an all artist dinner (a tradition started over 15 years ago) at the Franklin Hotel in Deadwood. It was a way to wind down from the show, eat a good meal, sleep in a real bed, and let your hair down after the long hours and all the hard work. Eventually, other shops were invited and a banquet was set up, which originally was a sit down dinner, but when the hotel remodeled they took out the restaurant, they started catering the affair in a special room with its own bar in the basement.
It has now turned into a big to-do, with over 80 people attending this year’s banquet hosted by the Rosini Tattoo Family, and tattooist took over 60 percent of the rooms and almost all the suites in the hotel for a night of fun, food, gambling and of course a good night’s sleep in a real bed.
The veranda of the Franklin is where the Rosini Family has taken their yearly shop photo the past two years, a new tradition possibly. Always an interesting photo for sure. As always after the banquet everyone meets at the #10 Saloon for after-dinner drinks and gambling, a band and to say their hellos and goodbyes 'til next year’s Rally comes around.
The Sturgis Rally has definitely made its way into the hearts of tattooers and motorcycle enthusiasts, alike. With this many shops and artists coming to the event every year, I think we will see tattooing at the Rally for years to come... I can’t wait to see who is in attendance at the 75th Rally, I know I’ll be there, ready to tattoo the Rally masses for another year.
For more info on the Sturgis Motorcycle Rally go to www.sturgismotorcyclerally.com