It’s the year 2019, but it could just as well be 1970 on this block of Western Ave., on the northwest of Chicago. It’s a hot summer day and the scene feels real groovy. Vans and bikes of every psychedelic color line the street in front of the dual storefronts of Sideshow Gallery and Revolution Tattoo. The row of radical vehicles turns heads and slows down traffic on the busy north-south thoroughfare. It’s a whole fleet of good vibes. On the sidewalk side, the vans have open doors to grand interiors while some of Chicago’s finest choppers are parked across along the buildings. The colorful denizens of Chicago’s custom scene turn out in every variety; coolers and friendly conversation rule the day. The atmosphere is electric. It has become thee annual block party to attend, unlike any other in the city.
Returning for its fifth year, The Happening Van and Chopper Show brings together two communities of custom culture. An effort started by Alex Simpson of Bravetown, Anne Elliott & Cheri Gutierrez of Sideshow Gallery, and Omar Gutierrez of Revolution Tattoo, the show began as a fun summer street party for friends to gather, show off their customized rides, party, and check out some equally far-out art. It has grown to encompass multiple blocks, dozens of vans, over a hundred bikes, and hundreds of people throughout the day.
Vanners themselves, Cheri and Omar host the event at their side-by-side storefronts, Revolution Tattoo and Sideshow Gallery. The event is free to the public and offers a unique opportunity to view one-of-a-kind, fully custom choppers and vans in their natural habitat, on the streets! Omar and his talented crew of tattooers are also banging out top notch tattoos with special Happening flash all day long at Revolution, while next door Sideshow Gallery hosts the yearly art show.
Coinciding with the ride-in show outside an art show takes place inside the Gallery. This year I had the honor to share some of my photography work, in collaboration with invited artist Jourdon Gullett. Jourdon works as a freelance illustrator and artist based here in Chicago. He is also known in the van world as The Damn Van. A contributing artist since the first year, his artwork is detailed, whimsical, and evokes a certain tone that fits perfectly with the Happening. With a mixed-media approach his use of his own illustrations as a canvas creates impressionist icons and shapes that flow and interact from painting to painting.
Next to Jourdon’s art were my framed duo-tone prints. Inspired by vibrant 70’s poster art, I took a different approach to my photography and created gritty renditions with halftones and solid colors. Bridging the gap between our two styles was one collaborative piece, with Jourdon’s bright shapes on top of my photo of Andrew Gassman and his Midnight Witch Shovelhead, 2018 Happening’s HEAVY show favorite.
The third and final component to the art show is a custom motorcycle chosen to be featured inside with the other artists. This year’s chosen piece of rolling art was built by Jay Zeisloft, of Bravetown. Jay’s bike is a gorgeous 1968 Harley-Davidson Shovelhead in a Panhead wishbone frame. Fabrication work was done by Jay Zeisloft, with paint laid down by Shawn Long of Imperial House.
Back outside there was perfect summer weather for the great turn out of folks from both the neighborhood and neighboring states. Rob Hultz brought the good times and filled the air with the sounds of great vinyl records until the sun went down. As the evening pressed onwards, votes from attendees were counted and winners for show trophies were announced. Winners for the three categories were given custom trophies donated and painted by Fire Signs. Van Schiltzy took home the award for Best Van. Minnesota Nick won Best Two Wheels for his crazy long and wicked evo chopper. Last, but not least, the hosts Omar and Cheri finally had a chance to win an award for their van, The Weedian, for the People’s Choice award.
Once winners were picked and the sun fell below the cityscape it was time to head out to the backyard for the much-anticipated “van performance.” Doom metal duo SIESTA, Omar and Omar, blasted their heavy jams with a half stack and drums crammed in the back of Omar’s van. Against a trippy backdrop of the cosmos with accents of vivid lighting and fog effects put together by Ryan Oliver of Deathblow Prod. they jammed many a Sleep tune low and slow into the night. For most of us it was the perfect way to end the day.
Special thanks to Natalie of White Wolf Syndicate, Ryan Oliver of Deathblow Productions, and Ashlee Stewack of Fire Signs Chicago. A doubly HUGE thank you everyone who has come out and supported the show. We couldn’t do it without you. Keep an eye out early next year for announcements about the 6th Annual Happening Custom Chopper Van Show.