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West Virginia Mountainfest

By Ernie Copper

Take me home, country roads

Fledgling rally continues doing things right

Morgantown, W.V., July 23–26—Five years ago I heard a radio ad for a new event called Mountainfest. Like a lot of people, I wasn’t even sure what a “Mountainfest” was, but was pleasantly surprised when I checked it out. It turned out that Mountainfest was the best first-year event I’d ever attended. And it gets better every year.

Mountainfest is a nonprofit corporation that benefits the community in and around Morgantown, West Virginia. Its beneficiaries include Mylan Park, the primary venue for Mountainfest, and other area charities. They’re not just feathering their own nest, either. Fifteen years ago, the area that is now Mylan Park was an active surface mine. Today it’s a 320-acre, nonprofit recreational/ educational complex with a new 53,000-square-foot facility, the Hazel and J.W. Ruby Community Center. This unique relationship provides motivation that plays a vital role in the success of Mountainfest. The innovative effort was recognized by an award from the West Virginia Division of Tourism/Community Development in 2008.

This unique partnership helps provide the motivation that community businesses need to support the event, and leads to some amazing accomplishments. For starters, a four-day Mountainfest wristband is just 10 bucks and that includes headline acts like Travis Tritt and a host of other performers. It also includes access to one of the most creative vintage bike displays ever seen. Tom Mckee and friends put together an exhibit that rivals the quality of many permanent displays: military displays complete with artillery, camouflage netting and machine guns; Jack Wells’ one-man, 17-bike BMW display; a vintage motocross display complete with real dirt and starting gate; and an oversized photo backdrop of London’s ACE Cafe for displaying the British bikes—impressive machines in impressive settings.

If that’s not enough, a close-knit group of friends now known as “Bronsonites” celebrated the 40th anniversary of the movie and TV show Then Came Bronson. They all own Bronson replica bikes which were displayed in multiple vignettes, including the famed Bixby Creek Bridge, a soundstage, a bike jump and the hill climb. Even the opening scene from the TV series featuring Bronson pulling alongside an average businessman driving a station wagon, who expresses his desire to be like Bronson, seeing the country on his bike, was recreated. There was also a drive-in movie theater, complete with a VW Love Bug and a Corvair. What was playing? Then Came Bronson, of course!

The Bronson effect inspired many to take up riding in the late ’60s and early ’70s. Michael Parks, the star of TCB, wasn’t available but that led to a guest that was even better—Birney Jarvis, the man whose real-life experiences were the basis for the TCB screenplay. Just like Jim Bronson, Birney worked for the San Francisco Chronicle and his motorcycle trip was the movie’s inspiration. Now 80 years old, Birney provided autographs, told stories and shook hands all weekend. To find out more about this group and their intense dedication to the Long Lonesome Highway, visit www.jimbronson.com.

The Mountainfest Vintage Grand Prix is a one-of-a-kind event—a free exhibition race through a course in Morgantown’s Wharf District featuring tank-shift Harleys and Indians, European and Brit bikes and other vintage imports. Unfortunately rain dampened the streets Sunday morning and the event was more exhibition and less race than usual, but it still allowed fans and racers to see old bikes move while smelling and hearing them, too. By putting safety first and taking it easy, these racers helped insure the unique opportunity will still exist for years to come. This spirit of co-operation helps make Mountainfest special.

Vintage rides were also held on Friday and Saturday. Road Captain Andy Lindsay told me each ride had about 40 participants and Saturday’s ride took about six hours! These are real enthusiasts riding everything from Harleys to BMWs on the area’s best roads.

Back at Mylan Park, entertainment included midget wrestling, the American Strongman competition, and a 200-foot jump by Ryan Capes. There were quality vendors selling everything from holsters to T-shirts, along with food that was out of this world. The Jack Daniels Experience and Budweiser Burn Out were both popular, as were the famous Budweiser Clydesdales.

Saturday featured the 9th annual Cycle Source magazine Ride-In and Custom Chopper Show. I know; you’re asking yourself, “How do they have a 9th annual show at an event that’s only five years old?” The answer is that Cycle Source digs what’s going on here so much that they moved their existing show to the Mountainfest venue last year. That should tell you something.

The Coal Bucket Saloon is adjacent to Mylan Park and serves as the site for the 21-and-over activities—you know, jello wrestling, etc. These events were emceed by Cowboy from the Rat Hole in Myrtle Beach. The sidesplitting comedy of Bag Lady Sue was also featured on the main stage.

To round out the event, the Adrenaline Crew stunt team, Ives Globe of Death and the West Virginia State Bass Fishing Championships took part along with several tattoo contests. Oh yeah, I almost forgot—there was a Sons of Anarchy display, too.

Offsite support and activities also take place at Triple S Harley-Davidson, the host dealership, and feature bands, T-shirts, food and specials throughout the event’s four-day run. The staff there couldn’t be better.

Morgantown area businesses still embrace the event with specials and “Welcome Bikers” signs hung from storefronts. The only issue I’ve ever encountered here is the traffic to Mylan Park during peak hours. At one point, police closed the Interstate exit for Morgantown off I-79 to keep things safe. Organizers insist this is being addressed and will be minimized in the future if everyone works together to establish a more efficient traffic pattern. These are not uncommon issues to have when events grow, and an unofficial estimate is the crowd was over 60,000 this year. Peak traffic is always just before the headline act on Saturday evening. At one point on Saturday evening I didn’t know if I should watch the midget wrestling, witness Ryan Capes’ jump, check out the strongman lifting 400 pounds, or hustle over to claim a spot for the Travis Tritt concert.

To top things off, Mountainfest worked in cooperation with the West Virginia Motorcycle Safety Program and offered free rides for you and your bikes to whereever you were staying in the area if you had too much to drink. And there was a bike blessing before the parade Saturday. The fact that West Virginia has some of the best roads for motorcycling, offering smooth pavement and plenty of twisties, hills and scenery for the poker runs makes the event just that much more special. I know; it sounds too good to be true, but you won’t find a better buy for your rally dollar than Mountainfest. (www.mountainfest.com)

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