St. Paul, Minn., Mar. 24–25—The Donnie Smith Bike and Car Show was back in Minneapolis for its 30th year. Taking place at the St. Paul River Centre and the Roy Wilkins Auditorium, the show drew thousands from the community for a two-day celebration of all things custom. Beyond the rows of bikes on the main floor stood the third annual car show. The car show and the accompanying competition was much more robust than when it began in 2014, with over a hundred cars packed into the auditorium. Model A’s to Harley-Davidson-themed Chevrolet 2500s and everything in between was on display for judgment and jealousy.

Any competition has its standouts and this year’s car show had at least a couple that this correspondent couldn’t tear away from. Standing proud guard at the entrance was what would be this year’s winner for Rat Rod Truck, an astounding, lowered, spiked cow catcher-equipped 1948 Chevrolet 3500 weathered to the cloudy grey of forged steel ready for the buffing wheel. The details made the truck what it was: the headlights had spider web eyelashes and the bed had a fire extinguisher built in. The owner, Mike Loger of North Branch, Minnesota, made the judges’ decision an easy one.

The metal behemoth itself, the eventual winner of the Rat Rod Truck category

At the other end of the hall was the rat rod’s polar opposite, another oddball that no car show should go without, a 1966 VW bus. The interior was covered in bolts of floral print fabric and plastic flowers aplenty. The entire exterior was hand painted with flowers and peace signs in the goopy oil pastel way only VW buses can seem to own. But these standouts shouldn’t take away from the rows of Impalas and Chevelles done in metal flake and sporting bejeweled curb feelers. The show had something to offer gearheads of any shape or proclivity. It never felt like a new event—it was organized, well curated, and an excellent use of a Saturday.

The newest addition to the ever-expanding Donnie Smith Bike and Car Show was the Tattoo Expo featuring talent from all around the Twin Cities. Taking over two ballet studios in the Roy Wilkins Dance Studios was the buzzing of tattoo machine coils and the smell of green soap. Being the inaugural year of the Tattoo Expo, the scope was limited. This being said, the car show was started just two years ago and has expanded exponentially.

Not everybody needs to look distressed getting inked

The Tattoo Expo had more than just shades of a fully-realized convention. The potential of the Expo was clear just from the talent amassed. There was live tattooing from Jesse Canvas of Skin City Ink. She inked a striking satyr on a client who had been working on the piece for some time. She brought the piece to completion while onlookers followed the tattoo needle’s shading. It is a unique privilege to be let into the privacy of the tattooing process—being able to see someone rise from the chair, weary and ready for a plastic bandage, with their piece realized, is a sight not available anywhere else.

Live tattooing may be what brought the people in, but there was another special treat available for the Tattoo Expo goers at this year’s show. Dana of Designs by Dana in Cincinnati, Ohio, was on hand with his wife and former apprentice, Dot, to give some context to the world of tattooing. Dana, a living legend of the tattoo community, was there to talk with anyone who wanted about the history of tattoos, the association with sideshows, and the illustrious Artoria Gibbons—the most notorious tattooed woman of the vaudevillian age. The conversation to be had at this booth was almost as beautiful as the chrome of the classic street rods just a hundred feet away.

Convention goers should prepare themselves for the Tattoo Expo next time the Donnie Smith show rolls around. If it expands the way the car show did, it will be a singularly necessary event for the community.


Some pretty sick pieces getting done at the Donnie Smith Tattoo Convention. Tattoo by Mike Bean of Lucky Gal Tattoo

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Read more about the bike show here.


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