America’s oldest tattoo convention returns to its roots

Photo by Julie Tripp

Richmond was buzzing with the sound of tattoo guns as America’s oldest running tattoo convention celebrated its 24th year.

Richmond Tattoo and Arts Festival took place this past weekend Sept. 30 through Oct. 2.

Tattoo artists from all over America specializing in multiple art styles set up shop at the Doubletree Inn in Midlothian.

Guests set up appointments or picked out a piece of displayed art on the spot that they wanted to have done, and walked out of the convention center with fresh ink.

Special guests included the winner of  SPIKE’s “Ink Master” Anthony Michaels, as well as other contestants from the show.

This year’s event also featured street artists like Matt Lively and Hamilton Glass, as well as burlesque performances by dancer and performance artist Deanna Danger.

Kenny Brown, co-owner of the show and owner of Jack Brown’s Tattoo Revival in Fredericksburg said that this convention has made him who he is as an artist. He said that no one comes out of the convention without a story.

“I started coming to the show in maybe ’95,” Brown said. “I wasn’t cool enough to get a booth so I would rent my room and I’d tattoo out of my room and I’d come downstairs and watch all my heroes that I followed, in that time, in magazines.”

According to a 2010 ranking by the Today Show, Richmond is 3rd most tattooed city in America, with about 14.5 tattoo shops per 100,00 people, following Miami Beach, Florida and Las Vegas, Nevada.

The convention premiered in 1988 and has run continuously since ‘92. Founded by tattoo artists Grandpa Groovy and Billy Eason, the two invited tattoo-legends from all over the U.S. to the convention hosted at the hotel.

When Eason died, Nate Drew took the the festival and contacted Brown and Jesse Smith and asked them to help.

They agreed and now continue the legacy of Groovy and Eason. This year they moved the show from the Richmond Convention Center back to the original hotel which hosted the first conventions.

“When these old timers come in here, me especially, it almost makes me cry knowing where I was and what I saw in this building and how much it has meant to my life in general,” Brown said.

Brown said  that the show will always run in Richmond and that many other artists have a special connection to the city.

“Billy was from here, Billy’s shop was Capital Tattoo, and if it’s your town it’s sort of a turf thing,” Brown said.


marylee clark. photo by sarah kingMary Lee Clark

Mary Lee is a senior studying journalism. She currently interns for RVAmag and, in addition to writing for the CT. She previously worked as a makeup artist at Darkwood Manor, did lighting design at Trackside Theater (where she is now on the Board of Directors) and photographed for the Page News and Courier.

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1 Comment

  1. Correction: the oldest tattoo convention in the United States takes place in Syracuse, NY. The “AmJam” tattoo convention celebrate s its 31st year in January 2017.

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