Rolling towards the motorcycle-choked parking lot at the Ventura County Fairgrounds, I found my mind wandering as I slipped on my shades and gazed out at the sparkling sea. The combination of salt air and warm winter sun seemed to cast a mesmerizing spell and I blinked as what appeared to be an old schooner suddenly appeared on the horizon. I removed my specs and gave ’em a good wipe. Returning the thick lenses to the bridge of my nose, the apparition disappeared and I muttered to myself that I needed to lay off the caffeine and get some sleep. I wasn’t usually prone to hallucinations, but one had to admit that you just never knew what you might find at the David Mann ChopperFest—pirate ships and ghostly encounters to be included.
The 8th annual iteration of the ChopperFest was once again blessed with perfect weather and each year the credit for the welcome warmth is gratefully given to Mann himself since his friends are committed to the belief that David’s got an “in” with the powers that be. The prolific and talented artist was known to be curious about the spirit world, so it would follow that he’d make a place for himself in the hereafter.
Even if you’d never met the iconic Mann himself, his spirit seems to drift through the venue, as his presence is obvious everywhere during this event. The Midwestern native was known as a typical Kansas City boy; warm, laid back and relaxed. The haps for this gig have exactly that same vibe—nobody’s in a hurry and everyone has a smile plastered to their mug.
Just as his logo depicts, David was always smiling and was considered “easy to amuse” since laughter came often for him. When he wasn’t laboring over his easel creating the monthly centerfold for Easyriders magazine, or working on the 400-plus book covers he painted, he was riding his ’57 Pan/Shovel and partying with his best gal Jacquie, his sidekick for 24 years, and his posse of riding pals.
Sailing along the Pacific Coast Highway was David and wife Jacquie’s customary cruise. Riding into the hill country that rises above the coastline was another of the Mann’s favorite jaunts. Hills on one side, ocean on the other; the coastal area set the perfect backdrop for the couple’s casual rides. The constant companions married in a double ceremony with friends Dave Hansen and his wife, in front of friends and strangers during a swap meet on these same fairgrounds in March of 1997. He was also memorialized here after his death in 2004. On this day, it was like he never left.
One couldn’t help but notice the odd feeling that we were on some cosmic plane as we gazed deeply into the Mann paintings displayed by Ron Segal Fine Art and recognized that any of us could just as well be one of the figures he brushed into the biker lifestyle scenes on his canvases. For many of us, his work captures our daily routine as we cruise the boulevards and byways on two wheels.
Well, almost. Few of us actually toss a thigh over a king-’n’-queen seat these days. Or have sissy bars taller than we are, or apes that touch the sky. There aren’t a lot of us that rack up thousands of miles on the old hardtails with upswept pipes, or kick start our bikes. For most of the current-day riders, our motorcycles are built for comfort and the artistic builds that David helped proliferate are found under the ass of shorter-distance riders, or as entries in bike shows.
The extensive bike show on this day included 175 bikes—many of which were in honor of Mann and the lifestyle he lived and loved—and set an all-time record for the ChopperFest. Promoters had to expand the area for the show and the horde of bikes were sparkling brightly as they awaited judging by the 13 officials that circulated among the diverse array. One noteworthy bit of info was that, as far as anyone knew, only one bike had been trailered. All others were actually ridden in to the grounds.
Each year a variety of guys from the industry are invited to serve as judges and may include magazine editors, builders, painters, collectors and enthusiasts. This year that list consisted of “Kiwi” Mike Tomas, Kevin “Bean’re,” “McGoo” Harold McGruther, John Gilbert, Clean Dean, Kim Petersen, Milwaukee Mike, Duane Ballard, Matt Davis, Tim McGovern, Billy Jefferey, David Hansen and Tory DuVarney. ChopperFest fans were welcome to scope out the entries as judges eyed the bikes and made notes.
Meanwhile, on stage the ever-beautiful and busy Jennifer Santalucito kept attendees informed in between singing with friend Cody Marks. Jennifer also kept busy with her duties at the kissing booth, where she and the Harley Twins worked to raise bucks for Aiden Seeger (www.aidanhasaposse.wordpress.com).
The Bob Camarillo band rocked away the afternoon, as the roller derby gals bumped each other around the rink set up inside the Quonset building. The Sugartown Rollergirls held exhibition matches while fans cheered them on as they wandered the swap meet looking for that special tidbit.
Awards for the bike show were created again this year by SonnyBoy (www.sonnyboypaint.blogspot.com) and he was right down to the wire with them, literally handing over the last painted piece as the awards ceremony was unfolding on stage. The artistic mounting of a book of David Mann’s work, donated by Dave Hansen from his private collection, topped off his creative lettering and striping work and made for a truly collectible piece. It was speculated that the humble Mann himself would have been pleased.
We caught up with promoter Tory DuVarney and marveled at the weather and chatted about next year’s show. He had this to share with us:
“We have been working so hard on this event. This year we had a great vendor, bike show and attendee turnout. We were blessed with beautiful weather leading up to the event—which always helps attendance—and the rain came just hours after the event ended to make us feel even more grateful. It’s as if David’s spirit shines down on us every year; it’s amazing! This year we added the banked track roller derby with the Sugartown Rollergirls who we hope to have back next year. The track is newly built, so by next year we hope to have a full-blown derby-style championship match—which would be amazing! Next year there will be a special guest whom we haven’t seen in a while as well as other surprises. You’ll just have to come and see for yourself. I can’t give away too much.”
Loading up to hit the road, I reflected on Kim Peterson’s (In the Wind editor) earlier pirate greeting of “Arg matey” and found myself eyeing the horizon again for the old clipper. I asked a group of local surfers if they’d seen the old ship earlier in the day. “Oh yeah, we see that thing around here once in a while. It’s kinda like an old-school pirate ship, right? It’s like a ghost.” I smiled, nodded, and gave a wave skyward. Suddenly, it all made perfect sense.