Ozark mountain medley
Motor-revving, toe-tapping, finger-licking fun
Fayetteville, Ark., Sept. 23–26—The goddesses of motorcycle rallies were smiling down upon Fayetteville during the 10th annual Bikes, Blues & BBQ. Crowds of bikers and spectators swelled to overwhelm the downtown Dickson Street strip for a Saturday night street carnival finale, despite the slow start on Wednesday and Thursday. Thousands were downtown looking for good times and cheap thrills while checking out the bikes cruising Dickson, catching the sounds of the blues coming from the beer garden and, of course, sharing a few cold beers to add to the festivities.
Bikes, Blues & BBQ “ground zero” is Dickson Street in downtown Fayetteville, just east of the University of Arkansas campus. The secondary site for the rally activities is at the Tyson Track Center just to the southwest corner of the downtown area. This year, the Arkansas & Missouri Railroad Company was back in action again, transporting ralliers between downtown and the Tyson Center. They had three 1920s-vintage passenger coaches attached to the train engine, and made the short trip back and forth between the two venues about every 30 minutes. After purchasing your $5 wristband, you could park your scoot at either end of the line and ride in air-conditioned comfort to the other venue and back as many times as you wanted. I took advantage of the enjoyable train excursion a number of times.
There were a lot of other rally activities also happening in a variety of Northwest Arkansas locales during BB&B this year. There was so much going on in Fayetteville alone that I didn’t even get out of town during the entire weekend. You could easily overdose on demo rides on models from Harley-Davidson, Kawasaki, Star, and BRP Can-Am Spyders at the Tyson Center. I tried my hands on a Harley-Davidson FLHTCUTG Tri Glide Ultra Classic trike. They had a small area set up with orange traffic cones to make sure you could maneuver a trike through a figure-8 course, stop and back up. I immediately grazed the base of one of the cones with the big back tire on the trike, but they let me head out on the roadways anyway. A trike is definitely a different experience from two wheels. I could adjust to not having to put my feet down when I stop and having a reverse gear, but I think I would miss the lean in the curves. The next day I tried out the other three-wheeler, the BRP Can-Am Spyder. They call it a roadster, and its two wheels are in the front, making it easier to avoid running over orange traffic cones. The Spyder offers a five-speed semi-automatic transmission with remote electronic reverse interlock, which means there’s no clutch to mess with (for us more mature riders with aging fingers that are wearing down from years of operating hand-clutch levers). Apparently I missed out on the opportunity to rip up the roads on a V-8 Boss Hoss, since their demo fleet was at the Arkansas Music Pavilion where the facility was hosting concerts in conjunction with a separate festival called Bikes, Blues and Hot Rods Too.
On Friday and Saturday there was plenty of barbecue action on tap at the Tyson Center. Pit 4 a King from Springdale, Arkansas (winners of the 2008 People’s Choice competition), came out on top again to win the 2009 People’s Choice crown. The higher-stakes Arkansas State BBQ Championship, sanctioned by the Kansas City Barbeque Society (KCBS), was won by the Smokin’ Hills team from Overland Park, Kansas. They came out with the top scores, besting 53 teams from 12 states, to become Grand Champions and take home $8,000 cash.
The Stokes Air Battle of the Bikes, hosted by Earl “The Pearl” Stokes and sponsored by Cycle Connections Harley-Davidson from Joplin, Missouri, took place Saturday on the outdoor stage at the Tyson Center. The Battle of the Bikes (bike show) is another people’s choice event where bikes of the same category are paired up, and the audience screams, hollers, yells, and claps for their favorite. The finals of the competition were held on the main stage downtown. The overall winner was Davey Lave with his 2003 Honda VTX 1300. I was pulling for Julian Santarita with his electric Honda or Nathan Chaney with his ‘P. O. S.’ Kawasaki that he built from scrap lying around his garage.
The Parade of Power is a highlight of the weekend for families with small children. They try to get there early to stake out front row spaces on the curbs. The parade is open to anyone to join in, and the route takes them past the University of Arkansas, through downtown on Dickson Street and back out to the Tyson Center. Of course, the informal parade is continuous both before and after the formal parade with the official police escort.
If your timing was right, at the main stage in the beer garden, in addition to free musical entertainment, you could witness a wedding or two. David and Patti Porter, from Cabot, Arkansas, were married on stage, and Brian and Christine, with their entourage in full formal attire, renewed their vows to celebrate their 12th anniversary on stage.
Also, if your timing was right, entry into the beer garden was free. Apparently sometime in the transition between afternoon and evening, a $1 cover charge was being implemented. (Guess they were trying to make up some of last year’s deficit spending.) They were also selling beer tokens for $5 each. However, if you went across the street to the Walton Arts Center, they had set up their own non-profit fundraiser, advertising clean restrooms, free music, and beer for two bucks after the $1 admission. Choices, choices. I chose not to pay the $10 cover that one of the bars was charging for the semi-finals of the Ms. BB&B contest.
There were vendors from all over the country set up in every available parking lot along Dickson Street, as well as in the vast parking lot of the Tyson Center. They were hawking every available product or service that might be construed as biker-related, along with some totally unrelated, such as those hanging chairs. There was a consensus among vendors that Wednesday and Thursday sucked, but Friday and especially Saturday were helping to make up for it. Many expressed the fact that they enjoyed the friendliness of the people attending Bikes, Blues & BBQ. However, like the majority of us, they would have preferred a more uplifted economy.
Area hotels were operating as though the economy had totally recovered, or they were simply taking advantage of bikers again. Many of the $50 rooms were being quoted at $150 a night. I almost chose not to attend this year’s Bikes, Blues & BBQ due to the hotel situation. I ended up hooking up with an Intercontinental property that was within walking distance to the rally site and less than $100 a night—a much better deal than the crap that I was falling into previously. As it turned out, the weather was ideal, ranging from the cool 60s in the evenings to the high 70s during the days, with clear skies.
With the availability of hotel rooms in the area, and, according to Fayetteville police, about a 30-percent reduction in arrests and motorcycle accidents, you might conclude the overall rally numbers were down slightly. It could be, though, that the BB&B has spread out through more of the Northwest Arkansas communities.
“Over the last 10 years, we have seen the rally grow from a small poker run to one of the largest motorcycle rallies in the country. This year, the rally extended from Fort Smith to Rogers and over to Eureka Springs; from the Randal Tyson Track Center in south Fayetteville to Dickson Street and up to the Northwest Arkansas Mall where Bikes, Blues & Hot Rods Too made its debut this year,” according to Bob Corscadden, who handles public relations for BB&B.
Northwest Arkansas does offer an abundance of excellent motorcycle touring opportunities. The state of Arkansas distributes a pamphlet titled “Let’s Ride—Motorcycle Adventures in Arkansas.” It outlines a number of scenic ride routes, with half of them making loops in Northwest Arkansas. You can get your free copy at www.arkansas.com.
In addition to the grand riding and rally experiences offered, BB&B is a charitable event, as well. One of the more highly visible charitable organizations is the Fayetteville Fire Fighters (IAFF Local 2866). The firefighters held two poker runs again this year. The Friday route was more northerly and ran through Siloam Springs, Rogers, and Eureka Springs. Saturday’s route followed the Pig Trail running south and along old Highway 71. Nine hundred riders participated and nearly $5,000 in prizes and cash was awarded to the winners. The rest of the proceeds were funneled to various local charities.
“Bikes, Blues & BBQ is a non-profit 501(c)(3) organization and has donated over $500,000 to local charities since 2000,” event director Nelson Driver stated. “Your support of our rally keeps Bikes, Blues & BBQ a self-sustaining event that does not rely on local government funding to host the rally. The objectives for this year’s rally were to raise over $100,000 and for everyone to enjoy some of the best motorcycle riding, live music and barbecue in the country. We hope your time here in the Ozarks was fun and memorable. We’re looking forward to seeing you again.” (www.bikesbluesandbbq.org)