What do you get when you combine sun, sand, sea and a few thousand motorcycles on the Maryland shore? Simply, the OC BikeFest motorcycle rally. This year’s BikeFest was blessed with plenty of sun, warm weather and the complete absence of liquid sunshine; unlike last year’s rally, which saw lots of rain and even a tornado. The Maryland shore can be a wonderful place to visit in late summer, and with many of the hotels and motels offering off-season rates, this made for the perfect excuse to get away for a few days. One of the attractions of Ocean City is that it is a great destination in itself, with plenty to do and see in addition to the OC BikeFest events. When you add in the motorcycle activities, there is more to do than time allows. This year Cliff Sutherland, the promoter, was able to expand the venue locations to include not just Inlet Park, but also the city’s convention center and the Jolly Roger Amusement Park. The addition of the other two sites allowed for additional vendor space, as well as the use of the convention hall for additional music stages. With the paid entry fee you received an armband that allowed unlimited entrance to all of the venues.
After checking into my hotel on Thursday afternoon, I immediately headed to the Inlet. When I arrived, Kashmir, a Led Zeppelin tribute band, was in the middle of their act. I almost thought I had stepped into a time warp; these guys are that good. They gave three performances over the weekend, one each day, playing many of the original favorites to a large and appreciative crowd. If you are a Led Zeppelin fan and have the opportunity to see these guys perform, you won’t be disappointed. The main act for the evening was the band Jackyl on the Ocean Stage. Jackyl has played many of the major motorcycle rallies and has built a large following, not just at motorcycle events, but in the larger music world, as well. They put on a high-energy show, as one would expect from a band that Guinness Book of World Records cited as “The Hardest Working Band in Rock ’N’ Roll.” For those who missed the first show, a second performance was held the following evening on the convention center stage.
Friday evening’s headline act at the Inlet was Grand Funk Railroad, and they played many of their old favorites to a capacity crowd. The big musical event was on Saturday evening at 5:00 when Charlie Daniels took the stage to an overflow crowd at the Inlet’s Ocean Stage. After some initial technical difficulties that included blown circuit breakers, Charlie Daniels and his band let loose with the high-energy fiddle and guitar performance he is known for. Immediately following the concert there was a live auction that featured two fiddles autographed by Charlie, followed by a Jack Daniel’s Barrel Head also signed by Charlie and his band members. The final auction item was a guitar signed by every musical artist who performed at OC BikeFest over the weekend. All of the items were donated and the proceeds went to the Maryland Concerned Police Officers, a charitable organization set up to benefit the families of Maryland police officers killed in the line of duty. The four items raised a total of $4,000.
Then came the big moment everyone was waiting for—the bike drawing. With each paid entry every attendee was given a registration card for the free drawing. The Casino at Ocean Downs was the sponsor of the bike raffle, and in order to get people into the casino, they required the card be brought to the casino in Berlin—a short ride from Ocean City. This year’s raffle bike was a custom vintage Triumph TR6, built by Loaded Gun Customs from West Fenwick Island, Delaware. The bike was thoroughly torn down and the engine rebuilt from the cases up. The result was a modern, fully functional machine with the look and feel of a late ’60s bobber. When the name was pulled, the very lucky winner was Monica Stacy. When she got to sit on her new bike she was grinning from ear to ear.
Immediately after the drawing the tent emptied, as everyone rushed over to the convention center for the 7:30 p.m. show of 38 Special. Normally the 45 blocks could be covered in 10 or 15 minutes of ride time. However, with a few thousand bikes trying to exit the Inlet and subsequently merge with the traffic coming over the Route 50 bridge, it was more like 45-plus to get from one venue to the other. This was the only real disadvantage of the multiple venue locations, but due to limited real estate in Ocean City and the need for sufficient space for both vendors and parking, this was the best solution to the problem. By the time I made it over to the convention center, 38 Special had started their set. The band formed in the mid ’70s, scoring a series of hits throughout the ’80s, and they have more than 15 records to their credit. They consider themselves a Southern rock/country rock band, and they delivered a knockout show.
If the music was not enough of a draw, there were several other entertainment offerings at the various sites. The Ives family was busy performing at both the Inlet and at the convention center. They brought their Wall of Death to the Inlet for numerous shows each day. Back at the convention center site they alternated between the Ball of Steel and aeronautic jumps. Their show is lively, energetic and a perennial crowd pleaser. These guys both started performing under the age of 10 and are real pros at what they do. Performances of a more sedate nature were displayed by Tommi Ahvala’s motorcycle trials demonstrations. Tommi is a world-recognized trials competitor, and every time I see his performances I’m amazed by what he can make a motorcycle do. While the Ives Brothers are all about speed and derring-do, trials competition is about slow-motion riding up and over some seemingly impossible obstacles. Both are very technical, require considerable skill and are a pleasure to watch.
The Jack Daniel’s Distillery was a sponsor last year, and this year they were back in a big way. They sponsored one of the live stages at the convention center, and they also had the Jack Daniel’s Experience trailer onsite. This is a full-size tractor giving the story of how their whiskey is made, as well as some background on the Jack Daniel’s legend. At the Inlet they had a booth set up Saturday where they were selling engraved bottles of the Premium Blend and, for the real connoisseur, their Single Barrel Select. At no extra charge they would add a personalized engraving to the bottle in addition to the commemorative OC BikeFest 2012 label.
Rommel Harley-Davidson was one of the other major promoters. They had a tent set up at the Inlet selling MotorClothes and accessories, as well as a large tent at the convention center where they brought over 100 new and used bikes from their three stores for sale. When I talked to one of the sales people to see how things were going, she stated they were willing to work with purchasers to sell as many bikes as possible. This included free delivery within 100 miles of any of their locations, as well as some price movement off the sticker prices. This undoubtedly contributed to the more than 30 bikes they had sold by Sunday morning.
Bourget Bike Works had a trailer full of their stunning machines set up for all to drool over. Both Yamaha and Victory brought a trailer full of their bikes, as well, and each offered demo rides all weekend. On Friday and Saturday the lines were long, but by Sunday the crowd had dissipated and the wait times were quite reasonable.
On Saturday morning Lowside Magazine sponsored a Run What Ya Brung ride-in bike show. Entry to the show was included with admission. The only restriction was that stock bikes were excluded, otherwise it was anything goes—metric or American, café racers, choppers, trackers or bobbers. If it ran and had two (or even three) wheels, it qualified. The variety and imagination that went into some of these creations boggled the mind. This was a judged show, and the win was awarded to Chuck and Nicole Plaisted from South Dakota for their homebuilt hardtail Shovelhead. Nice job, guys!
Over the weekend I saw license plates from all the surrounding states and as far away as Vermont and Texas, indicating that the event has broad, geographical appeal. Cliff Sutherland ran a well-organized event with many improvements from last year. The dates have already been set for next year, September 12–15. If he can continue to line up the excellent musicians and other entertainment venues, OC BikeFest should be on your calendar as a late-summer event on the East Coast.