OCEAN CITY, MD., SEPT 12-15–The ride to Ocean City on this Wednesday afternoon in mid-September was warm, sunny, and quite relaxing. After some time on the southern section of the Garden State Parkway, a rather peaceful and scenic route that passes through the mysterious Pine Barrens, I rode my bike onto the Cape May Ferry and for the next hour and a half, enjoyed a snack while watching the dolphins play in the shimmering waters of the Delaware Bay. Once I disembarked in Lewes, Delaware, it was less than an hour’s ride along the seashore before arriving in Ocean City, the host location for the 3rd annual Ocean City BikeFest.
I arrived at the Sahara Motel, my beachside lodgings for the weekend, and checked into my room. By then it was late afternoon, but the mercury still hovered in the low 90s, calling for a dip in the motel pool. Although Labor Day is the official end to the summer tourist season at beaches along the Mid-Atlantic coast, mid-September is a great time to hold a bike rally. Not only is the weather still quite temperate, the motels drop their prices for the so-called “shoulder season.” And the beach, bars and restaurants aren’t nearly as crowded.
Just a few blocks away from the Sahara is Fish Tales, one of the rally sponsors. It’s a fun place that hosts its own BikeFest activities with vendors and such arranged around the motorcycle-only parking lot. The bayside bar and restaurant offers drinks specials and excellent food, and it was a great place to relax—and socialize, if that’s your wont—after a full day on the road. And it’s a lovely spot to watch the boats at the dock rise and fall with the tide, with the setting sun casting a golden glow over the bay.
My plan for Thursday, the first day of the rally, was to make my way to the Ocean City Inlet, one of the two rally venues. The Inlet is situated at the southern tip of the city and is surrounded by water on three sides and a boardwalk with amusements to the north, making for a festive, colorful, family-friendly scene. I arrived there just before the opening time of 11:00 a.m., and there was already a very long line of people waiting to pick up their wristbands or pay the entry fee.
Inside the Inlet rally grounds were more than 40 vendors offering all sorts of products—apparel, parts, accessories and such. Underneath a huge tent was a vendor mall with more goods, as well as an exhibit of renowned Harley-Davidson artist Scott Jacob’s works. Food vendors surrounded picnic tables under another tent. Budweiser and Jack Daniel’s had pubs with tables set out for folks to enjoy the late-summer weather. The gals from Circus Una put on their high-wire, motorcycle-riding, gravity-defying acrobatic performance, and the Ives Brothers alternated between their Wall of Death and Globe of Death tricks along with their MX jumps.
Next stop was the Ocean City Convention Center, the other rally venue about three miles north of the Inlet in Ocean City proper. This year, entry to the convention center venue was free, and everything was in the front lot, easily seen from the street. And the stunt shows and musical acts were now all concentrated at the Inlet. This new arrangement worked out much better for rallygoers, as well as performers and vendors.
Rommel H-D had set up a huge tent in the lot, and in front of the tent were new Harleys for sale. Techs from Rommel were doing minor jobs involving tires, batteries and brakes as well. They’d also mounted a Dyna Street Bob onto a JUMPSTART setup where nonriders could feel what it’s like to ride without the danger of crashing or falling off. There were about 40 vendors and a swap meet at this location, too. Victory Motorcycles and Star Motorcycles offered demo rides, and there was a constant crowd gathered around, and seat-testing, the new 2014 Indian models that Indian Motorcycle of Northern New Jersey had on display.
Other rally-related activities included a Blessing of the Bikes on Saturday, sponsored by Knights of Columbus Council #9053 and held at St. Luke & St. Andrew Parish in Ocean City. And riders could participate in the Hogs & Heroes Foundation Poker Run, with stops at the Ocean City Inlet, the Rommel H-D tent at the Ocean City Convention Center, Seacrets in Ocean City, the Blue Ox in Ocean City, the Green Turtle in Salisbury, Perdue Stadium in Salisbury and the Oasis Bar & Grille in Whaleyville. Riders had three days—Thursday, Friday and Saturday—to collect stamps from all seven stops in order to qualify for $1,500 for best hand and $500 for worst hand.
Hogs & Heroes Foundation also provided the security for OC BikeFest, and was very active in the rally’s operation overall. The Foundation is a 501(c)(3) organization that supports public safety, the U.S. military and raises money for children of police officers and firefighters killed in the line of duty.
Before I knew it, the afternoon had passed by and it was almost time for Jackyl, the headlining concert at the Inlet. By the time I got back, the lot was filled and cops were directing riders to alternate parking locations. Maybe I should’ve taken the beach bus that rallygoers could ride for free with a BikeFest wristband. In fact, wristband bearers could ride all OC Coastal Highway and Park N Ride buses, which helped avoid the traffic congestion coming from Route 50 east to Ocean City.
I did manage to get into the concert tent just in time to see Jackyl’s frontman, Jesse James Dupree, take the stage. Jesse really knows how to engage the crowd; his persona changes from evangelist preacher to hard rocker to the cute boy in high school with a twinkle in his eye that your mom warned you about. A surprise guest was Jesse’s business partner Michael Ballard of the Full Throttle Saloon in Sturgis and TruTV reality show series of the same name. Michael brought onstage a bottle of Jesse James America’s Outlaw Bourbon, distilled by one of Jesse’s many business interests.
The musical acts were the biggest draw of all the attractions at the Inlet, with shows day and night taking place on two stages. Performances were spread over the entire four days of the rally including Kashmir, a Led Zeppelin tribute band, and Ozzy Osbourne tribute band Blizzard of Ozzy. Rock band Foghat played Friday afternoon, and America played Saturday. Friday evening I joined thousands of other music lovers to see the band War. Led by original member Lonnie “Leroy” Jordan, the band enthusiastically performed all our favorite songs from the 70’s—“Cisco Kid,” “Low Rider,” “Spill the Wine” and more.
Sometimes the lesser-known acts surprise everyone, and such was the case with the Bastard Bearded Irishmen who played on Saturday and Sunday afternoons. This Celtic-flavored band played rock, punk, acoustic and traditional Irish songs, and put on quite a visual show as well. Jamiah “On Fire” & The Red Machine, a blues-oriented trio of very talented young men, played Friday and Saturday, and Jamiah really was on fire, with his intriguing guitar riffs and infectious energy. To the delight of the audience, they were called onstage to perform several songs with War during the Friday night concert. Keep an eye on these kids; Jamiah has been performing since he was three years old, and now that he’s nearing 18, I think he’s ready to break into the big time.
Saturday night, Three Dog Night was the headliner, and amazingly, the band still has four original members from the late 60’s. They played new songs along with their standards such as “Try a Little Tenderness,” “Celebrate,” “Shambala” and many others. They also performed a hilarious hip-hop version of “Mama Told Me Not to Come,” which was worth the price of admission alone.
OC BikeFest has received a huge amount of support from the local community, with a slew of hotels, restaurants, bars and other businesses stepping up to provide sponsorship. With the positive changes that took place this year, the rally is well on its way to becoming the biggest—and quite possibly the best—in the region.