INTERVIEW: Chris 51: Founder of Headbangers Con

INTERVIEW: Chris 51: Founder of Headbangers Con

There is so many different conventions for every kind of theme. From cats, to Star Trek, horror movies, to the most famous of them all San Diego Comic Con. But is there one for Heavy Metal? A place where fans can check out their favorite bands or artists? Meet their fellow metalheads? Buy merch from popular or up and coming bands? Maybe even getting tattooed as well?

The answer is YES....YES THERE IS!

Headbangers Con is a convention where metalheads can do all of those things. Founded by tattoo artist Chris 51, the convention has been going for 7 years. Even having a virtual con to combat the COVID-19 pandemic, showing that no pandemic will stop the power of metal!

I sat down with Chris to discuss his background, the history of the convention, what's in store for future cons, and his Wishlist of future guests he'd love to have at the con. Plus, a This Day in Metal exclusive of who might be appearing at the 2024 Headbangers Con in Seattle!

TDIM: You were on the A&E show Epic Ink, along with your shop Area 51 Tattoo. How did that get started? What was it like to be on a reality show? As well as tattoo while cameras were on you?

CHRIS: It got started by me seeing a need for a different kind of tattoo show. I was sick of how we were being portrayed as these brutes and argumentative or egocentric characters like on Miami Ink and LA Ink, and I was sick of just seeing traditional-themed tattoos and black & grey portraits. My peers and I didn’t act like that, and tattooed way cooler shit haha. I literally manifested my show. I took a huge chance and moved to a bigger building down from the one I already owned, cause I knew it was the perfect setup for my idea, and for filming purposes. I wrote storyboards, casted my own crew, and presented it to the right people after a long time preparing. It changed my whole life and taught me that you can do any fucking thing you want in this world if you work hard enough for it!

It was super hard to film however. We filmed for 14-16 hours per day, six days a week for three straight months. I had no income coming in from my shop since it was closed for filming so I almost went bankrupt from it.

After day one on set, having three cameras in my face and knowing a million people were going to be watching, I either had to get over my nerves or quit. I came too far for the latter, so I forced myself to stop worrying what others thought of me or becoming embarrassed about anything from that day on. I still follow those mental rules today. You literally cannot embarrass me, I do whatever I was meant to do and I own that shit!

TDIM: You are the founder of Headbangers Con, a convention dedicated to heavy metal culture and the fanbase. What gave you the idea to do the con and how did it get started?

CHRIS: I was tattooing Morgan Rose from Sevendust at a Walking Dead convention in Atlanta, and saw how into all the collectables and memorabilia, as well as the cosplayers and attractions, and it made me wonder just how many rock stars have experienced such wonders. Metal being my first true love, I thought how rad would it be to mix the two; a comic-con type atmosphere where the main focus is on the rock stars as celebrities, mixing it up with fans and attractions/vendors with a metal show and theme. I had live bands of course, but this event would revolve around the meet and greet, not the concerts. It had never been done before, nothing like it, so I am so proud of how groundbreaking it was.

TDIM: The con did have a virtual con in 2020 due to the COVID-19 pandemic, dubbed "Conline". How difficult was it to handle an all-virtual con? How was the reaction to it?

CHRIS: I hated not doing it in person. That was the whole point, to mingle with the stars and other metalheads. Anyone who is a true metalhead knows that we are more than just a community, we are a family, and when we get together its peaceful and rockin' and badass! However, I still wanted fans to have a chance to meet the musicians they loved. I had some zoom meetings for another business of mine at the time, and it gave me the idea to do the exact same thing with Headbangers Con. Not saying I invented the online-convention thing, but I hadn’t heard of it before then. I made sure to build it as a hangout for all metalheads; meaning you didn’t just get your few minutes talking with the musician, but you got to hang in the chatroom the entire time, and see others reactions and hear all their stories and shit. It was actually really cool and fans really loved it. It ended up being really fuckin easy to do once all of the back end crap was done. I have an amazing right-hand man named Harry Phillipo who handled all the tech shit, so I just got to host and bang my head!

TDIM: Previous guests of the con include Chuck Billy of Testament, Max Cavalera of Soulfly and Randy Blythe of Lamb of God. Do you have a Wishlist of artists you would love to appear that haven't yet?

CHRIS: Yeah I have been lucky to connect with some bad ass motherfuckers for sure! Some I met through tattooing them or their bandmates and some I simply just reached out on Instagram praying they would answer and take me seriously lol.

My wish list is a mile long haha. I would love to meet and hang with Mike Patton, Steve Harris or Bruce Dickenson, Peter Loeffler, Kerry King, Jacoby Shaddix, Dave Grohl, Josh Todd, and many more. But, my dream would be to hang with anyone from Mötley Crüe, Angus Young, Robert Plant, Ozzy and the Metal god himself, Rob Halford. And let’s not forget the biggest legend of all, Fred Durst!

TDIM: Attractions at the con include the Inkcelsior Tour, who is involved in the Inkcelsior Tour and how did that get set up?

CHRIS: Well I use to own a tattoo tour like Inkcelsior that traveled around the world to tattoo at different cons, which is how I started tattooing a lot of celebrities and rock stars. I just got too busy and didn’t want to travel much anymore since my son was getting older, so I sold it. Two of my top artists (Brett Stuhler & Mike Lain) on the tour loved and missed it so much that they started their own, and Inkcelsior was born. They now carry the torch and are the best. The cool thing is, all of their artists are true metalheads so it isn’t fake. Brett was the first person I called when I was planning this next con in Seattle. I didn’t give him a choice haha.

TDIM: Will you be tattooing at the con if fans are interested in your work?

CHRIS: No way haha. I am there to rock the fuck out, I don’t want to do real work lol. Plus, I am way too busy running all over being the “face” of the event, putting out fires, helping fellow metalheads and kids have fun. As the owner, you need to be seen and heard and one of the fans as well so they all know you are legit. Even at 50 years old, I will be in the moshpit with my brothers!

TDIM: Along with the Inkcelsior Tour and photo opportunities with bands and artists, is there anything new that is in the works for this con or future cons?

CHRIS: Well I always try new things, whether it’s attractions or experiences. At the first Headbangers Con, I made a Beavis & Butthead photo booth with a backdrop and their nasty couch. I had Harley Davidson bring out their best bikes for a show. I had a free-play row of heavy metal pinball machines. I even had a kid guitar pick scavenger hunt and an entire kids area with little drums, a guitar page coloring contest and more.

This time is no different! We have an outdoor area where I can do a small car or bike show, maybe some food trucks and hopefully a nice cold winter wet bikini contest. Why you ask, because I fuckin can, I’m the boss!

I will also bring back the kids scavenger hunt (far away and concealed from the t-shirt contest lol). I actually put in my contracts that every celebrity guest needs to bring their guitar picks, and the kids go to each booth and collect them. I provide them a cool little plastic sleeve with pockets to hold them all in. It’s one of my most favorite things to see, and the rocks stars love it too.

I am having the Seattle School of Rock close the show too, much like I did the Portland show where the kids all learned the attending guests songs and played a killer live show. It was so amazing to see Corey Glover grab the mic and junp on stage to congratulate the kids after they nailed “Cult of Personality” and see Eddie Ojeda stand right up front when they were playing Twisted Sister.

TDIM: A lot of the cons have been in the northwest area (Portland in 2018 and Seattle this year), is this something that will be a Pacific Northwest exclusive? Similar to a San Diego Comic Con?

CHRIS: Well for now, until I can afford the overhead of traveling to do it elsewhere. It’s where I live so I have to do it within drivable distance for now with all of my equipment and staff. I’d love to grow it and do a traveling circuit one day, that’s my dream.

TDIM: For people who maybe can't make it to the con, will there be an option to offer any "Conline" stuff for people who can't make it?

CHRIS: Nope. Get your ass there! Trust me, you won’t regret it, there’s nothing else like it. You will see highlights and YouTube videos of all the interview panels, but that’s about it.

TDIM: You are selling merch and signed photos on the con's website, will there be merch for collectors and for fans at the con?

CHRIS: Oh fuck yeah. I am a merch whore because I buy it all myself too. I love to support the bands at shows, and always buy from their merch booths. My merch booth will have exclusive Headbangers Seattle swag plus signed photos from guests at my previous shows like you can find on our website. Vendors will sell everything from apparel and records, to local bands promoting themselves.

TDIM: I gotta ask, can you give This Day in Metal a scoop on maybe a guest that may be appearing at this year's con in Seattle?

CHRIS: Well I can tell you that I am currently talking with about 20-25 guys. Page Hamilton from Helmet is a good friend who is gonna try and make it, along with Randy Blythe from Lamb of God. Jesse Leach from Killswitch Engage is trying as is Mudvayne’s Chad Gray if schedules align. I’m also talking with 80's legends like Bruce Kulick from KISS and Chris Holmes from WASP.

TDIM: I end my interviews with this question, but what bands/albums have you been digging that people should be checking out?

CHRIS: Well obviously I can’t get enough of the latest Machine Head cause it hits so damn hard. The new Judas Priest releases are an awesome mix of new,  heavy and throwback melodic, I fuckin' love them. Chevelle’s last album NIRATIAS was their best yet and I still have it on regular rotation two years later. As far as newer bands I love Big Story’s new record Beazt. And I can’t wait for Killswitch’s new album due out later this year.

I wanna thank Chris 51 for giving This Day in Metal time to discuss the history and promote Headbangers Con and what it's all about. If you are interested in checking out this year's Headbangers Con in Seattle November 9th and 10th, check out the website for guests reveal, ticket prices, merch and so much more.

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