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Ninth Annual Bikes, Blues & BBQ

By Michael Mihalevich

Making the A list

All the B’s align for top marks

Fayetteville, Arkansas, Sept. 24–27—“The economy is in the crapper. In four years we will probably be hoarding canned food. But, tonight we’re going to party! Right here, right now, we’re going to party!” exclaimed a University of Arkansas student Saturday night at the beer garden on Dickson Street.

That was pretty much the general consensus as a steady parade of bikes cruised Dickson Street to the delight of crowds of people young and old and in between, packing the sidewalks. The music of the bands competed with the decibels of the bikes, and the smells of rally food wafted through the air. It was a total street carnival for four days of Bikes, Blues & BBQ. The other mandatory “Bs” were also in abundance—babes and beer. The weather for the long weekend rally in the Ozark Moun­tains was ideal with clear blue skies and 80 degree daytime temps going to a comfortable 60 degrees in the evening—just right for a light jacket and a cold beer while soaking up the entertainment.

Bikes, Blues & BBQ has capitalized on a pretty good formula. In the bikes category, they host motorcycling luminaries and manufacturers such as Jesse James, Billy Lane, Orange County Choppers, Big Dog, Voodoo Choppers, Boss Hoss, Leh­man Trikes, Ridley, and Bombardier Can-Am. Harley-Davidson, Victory, Star, and Kawasaki all brought demo fleets to Fayetteville this year. If you arrived Wednesday or Thursday, there was not too much of a wait to hop on for a test ride on any of the available models. As the crowds swelled Fri­day and Saturday, there was more of a wait, but all of the manufacturers with demo fleets had tents for shade, chairs for comfort, and cold water available to keep you hydrated.

Thursday afternoon was my lucky day. Harley-Davidson Event Marketing Manager Andi Raabe offered me the opportunity for an extended demo ride on one of the new Harleys. Naturally I had to pick out the most popular scoot of the herd—the Screamin’ Eagle Road Glide. I love the feel of that bigger, torquier 110-inch engine. If you happen to get lazy while riding the Ozark curves, you can cruise through most of them without the necessity of downshifting. My wife and passenger appre­ciated the re­routed exhaust system going down below the bike and not up next to her legs. Bystanders were enamored with the sparkling Elec­tric Orange paint. If I had access to a half dozen of these limited edition Screamin’ Eagles, I could have sold them all.

The Stokes Air Battle of the Bikes competition took place Saturday inside the Tyson Track Center auditorium. Bikes are categorized, paired off, and the spectators choose the bike they like best. The winner out of the pair stays up front to take on another challenger. The last bike standing up front is the winner of the category. The 2008 Battle of the Bikes Championship winner was John Wabaunsee from Pineville, Mis­souri, with a 2001 Harley-Davidson Road King. Satur­day night, on the Main Stage on Dickson Street, John battled the 2007 winner, Johnnie Tay­lor from Fort Worth, Texas, with her 1995 Sportster named “Warpaint.” Taylor once again won the crowd over and de­fended her Bikes, Blues & BBQ Battle of the Bikes Overall Championship.

Once the Battle of the Bikes competition is completed Sat­urday afternoon, the Parade of Power stages outside the Tyson auditorium. The Parade of Power 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. The parade is definitely a highlight of the weekend. Families with their small children stake out their front row spaces on the curbs early, since the informal parade is continuous until the formal parade begins with the official police escort.

Of course if you’re on a bike in the Ozarks, you have to take off to explore some of the majestic scenery surrounding Fayetteville. The Bikes, Blues & BBQ Rally committee offers a free “Pocket Guide” that outlines four potential routes: Eureka Springs, Buffalo River, “Old Town” Van Buren, and the Pig Trail. The Pig Trail along Highway 23 is a favorite. Its curves, hills, and scenery make it a motorcycling nirvana. Where else have you seen yellow caution signs that exclaim “Very Curvy & Steep Next 4 Miles”?

Eureka Springs, Arkansas, is a very interesting side trip. The city was founded in 1879 after the discovery of its spring, that, according to legend had “miraculous, healing waters.” It is essentially a small town built in the hills, and its streets follow the natural terrain, which makes for extremely interesting navigating. Among the Victorian architectural treasures is the stately Crescent Hotel and Spa, built in 1886, on a mountaintop overlooking the city. On another hilltop is The Great Passion Play and the 70-foot tall Christ of the Ozarks statue on a site developed in the 1960s by the late Gerald L. K. Smith, and his wife Elna, both of whom I had the pleasure of meeting and visiting with more than 30 years ago.

Twelve hundred riders opted to join in on the Fayetteville Fire Fighters (IAFF Local 2866) Poker Runs. Due to last year’s overwhelming response, the firefighters set up two poker runs: one on Friday heading south and covering the Pig Trail, and one on Sat­urday heading north through Eureka Springs. All the funds collected by the firefighters are funneled to charities including Camp Sunshine (a camp for children who have been burned in fires), a scholarship fund, a Secret Santa program, and the free Movies in the Park program. Friday’s poker run was won by Gary Bailey, and Saturday’s poker run was won by Rick Doss.

Meanwhile, back in Fayetteville, for the blues portion of Bikes, Blues, and BBQ, more than 35 bands provided free entertainment for four days on two venues: the main stage in downtown on Dickson Street and the Jagermeister stage at the Tyson Track Center. If you didn’t get enough of a blues fix when the Jagermeister stage shut down at 8:00 p.m., you could head downtown for musical enter­tainment till midnight. Even if you are not a total blues fan, the musical offerings were interspersed with a variety of classic and current rock. The Coors beer girls offered additional entertainment in the beer garden, and created minor mayhem when they tossed keychains, hats, and T-shirts to the crowd.

An interesting new feature this year was actual train service between downtown and the Tyson Center. The Arkansas & Missouri Railroad Com­pany had about four 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 $10 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 this enjoyable excursion several times.

The clubs lining an eight-block stretch of Dickson Street were offering their own entertainment. In addition to live bands, Jose’s and George’s Majestic held preliminary rounds of the Ms. Bikes, Blues & BBQ competition prior to Saturday night’s finals. Stage 28 Talent and Casting was this year’s sponsor, and Joe Giles, a former school teacher and principal and leader of Joe Giles and the Home­wreckers band, was the official event emcee. Joe claimed it was a tough job hanging out with those 20-something babes in bikinis, but someone had to do it, so it might as well be him. Thanks for shouldering that burden for us, Joe.

Midnight Saturday was the be­witching hour at the Coors Light Main Stage for the Ms. Bikes, Blues & BBQ finals. Twelve lovely ladies clad in barely there bikinis strutted their stuff for the crowd. Kayla Shores, a U of A student from Bentonville, was crowned this year’s top babe. She won a one-year modeling contract with Stage 28 Talent and Casting and $2,000 cash. Brittney O’Reilly of Bella Vista, Arkansas, won $1,000 for second place, and Christy Lansford of Poplar Bluff, Missouri, took third place and $500.

Barbecue is a biker staple that can be prepared many different ways (’course I’m partial to Kansas City style). This year there was a Tyson Foods People’s Choice BBQ competition in addition to the professionally judged contest. You could purchase one of the 3,000 judging kits for a five-dollar charitable donation, and proceed to sample some of the available barbecue, and vote for your favor­ite. “Pit 4 A King” of Springdale, Arkansas, was chosen as the peoples’ favorite. The Kan­sas City Barbecue Society oversees the professional portion of the barbecue judging. The panels include more than 26 individuals certified as trained judges by the Kan­sas City Barbecue Society (KCBS). The judges base their decisions on appearance, taste, texture and tenderness of the meat. The competition is based upon the quality of the meat, not the sauce or sides. Out of the 44 teams competing, the winner, “Pellet Envy” from Lea­wood, Kansas, is not only the KCBS Champion but they are also crowned as the Arkan­sas State Cham­pion. They will be attending the KCBS World Cham­pion­ships at the American Royal in Kan­sas City, Missouri. Despite the seriousness of the awards, many of the teams are there for the camaraderie and the parties.

Since Bikes, Blues & BBQ bills itself as the “largest charitable bike rally in the U. S.,” there are some high-dollar goodies to be had when you plunk down your donation dollars for raffle tickets. Two major raffle items were a Harley and a trailer. Daniel Ferguson of Fayetteville was the lucky winner of the Razorback red 2008 Harley-Davidson Rocker C, valued at $20,000, and donated by Pig Trail of Rogers along with other Harley-Davidson dealers in the tri-state area. Eldon Long of Lowell, Arkansas, won a Dutchmen N’Tense 240 Toy Hauler Travel Trailer, worth $30,000, in a raffle sponsored by National Travelers RV Center. A couple other winners included David Myers of Mt. Vernon, Missouri, win­ner of a $5,000 custom paint job from O’s Custom Paints of Memphis, Ten­nessee; and Jim Madden of Spring­dale, Arkansas, winner of a $4,000 Gibson acoustic guitar.

This annual Northwest Arkansas rally has been growing dramatically over its short nine-year history. Its central location in the continental U.S. in the wonderfully scenic Ozark Mountains is a major plus. You could ride for months and find new byways to explore every day. The end-of-summer, early fall weather was gorgeous this year. The rally provides a really fun atmosphere and relatively inexpensive prices, which is another plus, considering the current state of the economy. Traffic even flows smoothly, except for the 5:00 afternoon rush. Amazingly, despite the bigger-than-ever crowds, the police only had to handle five minor traffic collisions (no serious injuries), three DWIs (actually lo­cals), and two citations for excessive noise (to sportbikes, no less).

Everyone I talked to had essentially positive things to say about the rally. Students enjoyed the diversion from their studies and the police were enjoying the parades of bikes and people, but only wished they didn’t have to deal with 15-hour-a-day shifts. The vendor population was up, as was the rent for vending space. Some vendors downsized their space, but still showed up to take advantage of the hordes of rally attendees willing to part with a few bucks here and there. Naturally the hotels were happy to see us. Most of them doubled or tripled their rates, but there were a few that actually stuck with standard rates. At least they have not started demanding multi-day reservations. I did hear of more visitors renting rooms in private homes this year, and saw a few tents in a few yards. Many places within reasonable walking distance to Dickson were attempting to lure bikers to park with them for a small fee. Parking was free on Dickson—if you could find an opening, of course.

The rally committee summarized the event: “The ninth annual Bikes, Blues & BBQ rally has come and gone, and this year’s rally was even better than expected. Every indication is that this year’s attendance was up from previous years. Bikes, Blues & BBQ is a nonprofit organization and has donated over $500,000 to local charities since 2000. In 2007, over $100,000 was donated to 27 charities. It is our hope that this year’s rally has once again been able to raise over $100,000 and that everyone was able to en­joy some of the best motorcycle riding, blues music and barbecue in the country.”

With next year being the 10th anniversary, you might want to start making your arrangements to attend Bikes, Blues & BBQ in scenic North­west Arkansas, so you can join in on all of the excitement next September. I’ve already made my room reservations in preparation for next year’s party.

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