The Tapped Life team had one of their most interesting festival experiences yet while slinging beer shirts at the 2016 Colorado Motorcycle Expo at the National Western Complex in Denver this past weekend. Early on the first day Saturday, January 30, a fight broke out between rival motorcycle clubs resulting in 3 shots being fired, one man dead and six more in the hospital, several with critical stab wounds.
It was a beautiful winter day in the city; the high temp was in the 60’s. Almost as though the weather was supportive of a January motorcycle event. The morning started out pretty slow as bike enthusiasts began arriving around 9am but the crowds and the leather Motorcycle Kuttes (patched “battle vests” showing club affiliation) were definitely increasing during the later morning. This was not a early am crowd (what time does the Coors Light trailer open?)
Overhead at the Tapped Life booth (from one old, leather-bound biker to his buddies, Coors Light cups in hand), "I was drinking with my son yesterday and he didn't have no Coors - only those craft beers." His friends jeered. He finished, "I think I like craft beer!" His friends jeered again. There we were spreading the craft brewed word, making a difference.
The people watching and the eye candy were amazing. Tough guys, tattooed ladies, leather chaps, straps and fringe, crude t-shirts, old guys with young ladies, fishnet stockings and corsets, vintage motorcycles, gleaming parts, patches, patches and more patches. It was an interesting step into another sub-culture...a lot like Craft Brewing, only with a lot more leather, slightly less facial hair and, evidently, while just as cliquey, a more aggressive approach.
While it was quite obvious that we were surrounded by some pretty tough people, we found most everyone were there to have a good time, check out some bikes, grab some parts and see some friends. We never felt unsafe or intimated although there were definitely some intimidating types around.
Surprisingly, while the shit went down about 300 feet from the Tapped Life booth, our crew was completely unaware of the craziness playing out behind the doors, in the stairwell. It only came to our attention after our neighbor (check out the crafty Wallet Buckle) received a warning text message from a fellow vendor upstairs on the main floor. Very shortly after, there was a very obvious Denver Police presence and the crime scene tape was up.
We also noticed that immediately, the umber of club-affiliated kuttes decreased dramatically. All the motorcycle club members left very quickly. Not only the clubs that have since been named as involved, but it appeared club members from most all clubs left the expo. Exceptions included the religious clubs (yep, its a thing), who stuck around all day.
The amazing thing was, at first, the whole thing didn't seem to really affect the show much at all. The bands played as scheduled, the wet t-shirt contest went on as planned and we kept selling beer shirts (Best seller for the day was our Colorado Drink Local shirt). We discussed it in the booth and were really unsure why this was...why weren't people, including us, more phased by a murder in our midst? Was due to the handling of the situation by the Denver PD, (there are reports that a Department of Correction employee was involved), was it a understanding of the culture we had stepped into, or maybe a reflection of a culture where Sons Of Anarchy has become commonplace?
Denver Police did end up canceling the second day of the expo over continued safety concerns. Probably rightfully so.
We do wish the best to those injured and the friends and families of all affected.
This is definitely getting a little deep for a blog about beer shirts but we felt that this experience on our craft brewed journey was worth a little reflection and an Upslope IPA.
Next week, we're back on the brewfest circuit (thank the craft beer gods) in Sioux Falls, SD for another America On Tap festival. Probably gonna stay away from the motorcycle shows for bit...maybe not.
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