Living tribute to an artist’s vision

Keeping the lifestyle alive

Ventura, Calif., Dec. 14—Have you ever attended an event that you knew from the jump was one of those truly remarkable kinda gigs that would leave you with that “Wow” feeling? A party where it seems like every cool bike in the region converges on one spot and where gearheads, builders, and bikers rub elbows and simply hang out under the bright sun? Well, just such an event was the fifth iteration of the renowned David Mann Chopper Fest.

Held under the swaying palms at the fairgrounds of the Seaside Park in Ventura, California, just spitting distance from the sand and pounding surf of the Pacific Ocean, this tribute to legendary biker artist David Mann has evolved into a casual, comfortable event that, in the waning days of 2008, drew a reported 4,000 attendees. And no one went home disappointed. Infused with a healthy dose of SoCal hot rod cool, it’s more than fair to say folks here were dazzled by the remarkable biker bling that sprawled across the fairground sod.

Mann and machine
David Mann, the famous artist whose work is comfortably hung from prestigious art gallery walls as well as tacked to garage studs across the planet, is the namesake and honoree of this event. After cruising across the states in the 1970s from Kansas City, Missouri, in his 1947 Chevy to take a job in SoCal with the then-fledgling Easyriders magazine, Mann proceeded to leave his indelible mark on history with his iconic paintings depicting—and popularizing—the chopper lifestyle.

From kickstart hardtails and sleek, raked machines to images of the biker scene, Mann brought to the forefront a tribe of riders whose do-it-yourself attitude came to life on canvas. For those of us who grew up on the back of a chopper, his vivid paintings told the story of our culture with attitude and accuracy.

The untimely passing of Mann in 2004 prompted his wife Jacquie to organize the David Mann Fund, which works to provide assistance to aspiring artists. These days a portion of the proceeds from the DMCF event is donated to the fund. The yearly gathering at the Seaside Park, where David and Jacquie were married some 15 years ago during a swap meet, is an opportunity to immerse oneself in the warm energy of Mann’s legacy and witness firsthand the respect afforded him across the biker and builder community.

The 13-class bike show and the all-day party built around it is a mind-blowing experience. The entire facility oozed with an artsy groove that was impossible to ignore. In addition to the normal show classes offered by typical bike shows, the Chopper Fest also included a David Mann Memorial Award, which was presented to the motorcycle that most closely represented the kind of bike Mann himself would have portrayed in his paintings.

To make the awards themselves even more prestigious and indicative of Mann’s spirit, this year’s trophies were hand-crafted by another famous artist, Doug Dorr. Sponsored by Gary Bang H-D, Dorr’s one-of-a-kind awards were various tools that were painted in the Kustom Kulture style by Dorr, a premier artist/pinstriper who originated the Kool-Tools design known to hot rodders near and far.

In keeping with the theme of the day, folks poked through the vast array of parts that were laid out for the swap meet as they sought out that special little bauble that their own creations might be missing. Over 200 vendors offered their various biker wares to discerning shoppers who strolled the pathways between booths. Nestled between buildings on a makeshift rink, the Ventura Derby Darlins entertained the crowds with a roller derby exhibition that incited cheers and excitement as the fans encouraged their rowdy escapades.

The Charlie Brechtel Band provided music for the day, a perfect fit for the event. Pumping out original biker blues, the band kept the crowd rocking as Jennifer Scott played Chopper Fest hostess and informed the masses of the day’s doings. David Mann’s daughter, Tracy, was on hand as Brechtel played “Ghost Rider,” a ballad dedicated to her father. Just behind the stage, Ron Segal Fine Art presented a full-blown art exhibit displaying David Mann’s famous paintings as attendees checking out the show filled the building throughout the day.

Padding optional
Typical of the day, a group of over 20 riders, as if rolling right out of a Mann original illustration, cruised into the fairgrounds on “old skool” bobbers and dropped their kickstands. Having heard about the show, the guys from Foundry Moto out of Phoenix, Arizona, decided the gig sounded like a good time and rode over to check out the doings. Just there for the party, they didn’t even enter their bikes in the show that included over 150 entries.

Among the big builders like Chica, Exile Cycles, Kiwi Indian Motorcycles and others were several smaller builders with their unique bikes. One such fabricator, Slim from Slim’s Fabrication, whose business card states “Sacrifice comfort for style and speed,” caught the eye of showgoers with his sleek, stripped-down machines.

Offering bikes that were short on comfortable niceties (no suspension or even padding on seat pans) but long on speed and individual style (like “high tech” kill switches that involve yanking the sparkplug wires), crowds gathered all afternoon around Slim’s amazing works of art. Just down the lane, Vintage Klass, strategically set up across from the heavily patronized Budweiser booth, displayed their retro helmets. Tory DuVarney, promoter of the Chopper Fest, said he felt that David Mann’s spirit was present.

“Once again David was shining down on us,” DuVarney said, “and the weather was great. We really do try to do our best to create a show that David would be proud of and would have attended. We try to keep his vision of the chopper and the lifestyle around it alive. The swap meet is a big part of that because that truly is where all the parts were found to build their amazing machines.”

As far as next year’s show, DuVarney shared with Thunder Press that, “August 30, 2009 will be the new date. And we hope to get the Victor McLaughlin stunt and drill team to come back out. They are awesome to watch.”

“We will make the event longer,” Troy maintained, “and will add an additional band. Other than that, we hope to get more artists involved, as that was David’s passion.”

Lights, camera, action
William Connelly of Anteros Digital Productions was on hand at this year’s Chopper Fest to capture footage to be used for a film on David Mann. Connelly is working with the artist’s widow on a documentary and is in preproduction. By next year’s Chopper Fest, Connelly said he hopes to have teaser clips to present to the public on the project. His crew spent the day capturing some of the essence of what David Mann meant to his fans and friends.

“The ’08 David Mann Chopper Fest was a blast!” Connelly enthused. “We were lucky to kick off the production at this year’s show. Even though we are in the preproduction stage, it was a great opportunity and we gathered some really cool footage. It was like walking through a David Mann painting.”

As the various judges, who included Dean Shawler from Biker magazine and Dave Nichols of Easyriders, lapped the bike show area, the sun began its slow descent. The judging process was very laborious as the quality of the entrants was of the highest caliber, requiring an extensive conference between officials.

Year six for the DMCF looks like it will be better than ever. Keep an eye on the Thunder Press calendar for 2009 updates.


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