When we didn’t hear Roadside Marty’s voice booming over the loudspeakers when we pulled into Willie’s, we were worried. Roadside’s voice has been synonymous with the show for years. Loud, sometimes gravelly, and always abrasive, it suits the atmosphere of Willie’s Tropical Tattoo Old School Chopper Show perfectly. Willie’s ain’t no summer picnic. It’s big beards and faded denim vests, cuts and patches, where grease under your fingernails is the ticket price to admission. It’s where rusted relics are valued for being in original states of wear, withering paint is premium, and swap meet finds are refashioned into linkages and housings. Home to hardtails and jockey shifters, Willie’s is where Springers and girders meld in a sea of Frisco and coffin tanks mounted on Paughco frames.
Willie's Tropical Tattoo Show is a pants-optional affair - as long as you have legs like this.
Our worries that it might be a down year at Willie’s yearly bash were quickly assuaged when Roadside took his traditional spot just outside the tattoo joint’s front doors, Willie by his side, the party full tilt. After a modest start to the beginning of Bike Week 2014
, Willie’s Tropical Tattoo Show was the best gathering by far, enjoying one its biggest turnouts in years. Bobbed and chopped, customs of all ilk squeezed in beneath the yellow and red Tropical Tattoo sign while the back forty was packed to the gills. One trip around the building easily took half-an-hour. It felt like an old friend awaited around every corner as you always bump into people you haven’t seen in ages at Willie’s show. It’s part of the beauty of the gathering.
While MC Roadside Marty kept the crowd entertained outside, inside the parlor special guests like Darren McKeag spread their artistry in ink on human canvases. The buzz of tattoo guns filled the air, the inside of Willie’s as abuzz as the outside. In the back, the LED Sled gang showcased Sportster parts under the awning of its booth while Twisted Tea girls teased with free samples of its potent potable.
The quality of work at this Willie’s show was outstanding. A rigid Springer with a spoked Scrambler-style knobby on the front and an incredible ribbed frame drew plenty of appreciate fans. Silver and red metal flake in a network of bold striping ran from fork to rear fender, a taillight from a vintage Lincoln Zephyr fashioned into its tank. An open-belted bobber with a Richard Petty commemorative paint job looked exceptionally sharp as well. Before long, Roadside began bellowing out names of the winners, a list 21 names-long. Nate Jacobs of Harlot’s Cycles was a big winner on the day, taking home both the Cycle Source and Dave Perewitz Awards.