The Lakefront Summerfest Grounds were packed for Thursday’s concerts, which also included Lupe Fiasco, the Doobie Brothers, Aerosmith and Toby Keith.
Crap. In order to work on this awesome story I decided it would be a good idea to get back in the mode that I was last Friday night during the Harley-Davidson 110th-year Anniversary in Milwaukee by indulging in a few drinks. In case you haven’t heard, the mothership of American motorcycles put on one hell of a party last Labor Day weekend and took over the entire city of Milwaukee. This story is not really about that. This side of the story is all about fun. You can read in any mainstream media about all the marketing hoopla and whatnot that the boys at H-D put into this year’s event. What else can I say that hasn’t been printed already? It was huge. There were tons of parties, a billion bands, parades and fun had by all. More than 100,000 people from around the world descended upon the home of Happy Days to celebrate.
The 110th Milwaukee Celebration started off on Thursday at the Milwaukee Lakefront Summerfest Grounds (Henry W. Maier Festival Park) with an exclusive concert for H.O.G. members only with Mr. Freebird himself, Lynyrd Skynyrd headlining. It was the first time that I ever screamed “Freebird” at a concert and wasn’t being sarcastic. But the pure irony was worth the drive to Milwaukee.
Freebird has become an international cultural phenomenon. You can scream the title out anywhere, anytime and people will know exactly what you are talking about. It’s the same thing with the word Harley. It is instantly recognizable in any language around the world. I stared out into the crowd-emblazoned H.O.G. patches from chapters around the world as they all chanted “And this bird you cannot change.” I smiled, which is surprising since I am not a fan, but I really felt the love as nearly 100,000 bikers sang in unison. There was Italy singing next to Bolivia and Mexico was dancing next to Japan. The world was hanging out together for the same reason, to celebrate 110 years of iconic American muscle with an iconic American band.
After Skynyrd left the stage the Summerfest Grounds opened up to the paying public for three days of rock with an epic line-up including Lupe Fiasco, The Doobie Brothers, Aerosmith and Toby Keith. That night some ‘70s dirt rock cover band I never heard of called Chevy Metal played to an un-packed house. To everyone’s surprise the stage was filled with a superstar lineup: Dave Grohl (Nirvana, Foo Fighters), Taylor Hawkins (Foo Figters Drummer) and even Joan Jett. Sadly, there was no reappearance of Elton John who played at H-D’s 100th anniversary.
The real fun started the next day when Ben Marx from Cook Customs, a division of the PCI Group out of Milwaukee, invited me for a night on the town on a 16-person bicycle called the Pedal Tavern. Cook Customs is known for being the First American company to win the AMD World Champion Bike Builder in 2009 at Sturgis. Once described as motorcycling’s “Pulitzers, Nobels and Olympics all rolled into one”, the Official World Championship of Custom Bike Building used to be staged annually during the Sturgis Motorcycle Rally, every August, in the Black Hills of South Dakota before relocating to Germany this year. There are different facets of talent at PCI, bike builders, photographers, and designers all under one roof.
The Pedal Tavern is a 16-person bicycle-powered party on wheels. We squeezed on a few extra people. Ben handpicked the group of motorcycle enthusiasts to create a super-group of fun-loving bikers that spent the night visiting Milwaukee’s best dive bars while heckling everyone in the streets.
Ryan Hoffer (left) owns Trigger, the infamous bike from Quentin Tarantino’s grindhouse flop Hell Ride. The guy on the right, Ben, was along for the ride and having a blast.
One of the lucky handpicked revelers was Ryan Hoffer, of Premium Chop Sickles out of Minot, North Dakota. Not only does Ryan have the special talent of farming an impressive amount of hair on his face, he also is the proud owner of Trigger, the infamous bike from Tarantino’s grindhouse flop Hell Ride. Ryan took the night off away from Trigger to join us in a drunken festival of human-powered wheels which is must safer, and legal, than traveling via gas-powered machines.
Ryan tells me about his cinematic bike: “I own that bike, built for the movie by Justin Kell of Glory Sales. I have Trigger ‘B’ a 1947 Chief, Trigger ‘A’ is a ‘46. I don’t know what happened to Trigger ‘A.’ The mods are no front fender and 18-inch Indian front wheel (16 inch is stock) with the stock forks. The tanks are original. I don’t have any idea where the rear fender came from, it was made for an Indian. All the holes and stamped parts line up but the stocker should be skirted. The shifter was modified and went straight back off the tranny and there were pegs instead of boards. The handlebars are also a higher bend. The seat is a stock style solo saddle. It is a fairly good example of a correct bobber, a lightened up stock bike. After I bought it I spent a lot of time fixing stuff, movie props only need to run for a short time so it needed some help.”
Our first stop was George’s Pub. I don’t think George’s would still exist without the Pedal Tavern bringing in partiers on a nightly basis, but the place is awesome enough to hold its own. George’s is that place your old grand-pappy would want to hang out, and the proprietor is the jack of all trades… Korean vet, survivor of the deep tunnel explosion, historic Milwaukean and quite the damn showman.
George handed out drinks while telling us war stories on his loud PA system. All I really remember is him telling us a story about the time he traded his M1 Carbine for a few bottles of whiskey during some war while classic disco music was jamming in the background. Yep, it was pretty damned weird. Imagine a mash-up between Saturday Night Fever and Apocalypse Now. At first, I thought the man with only one eye was full of it – until I looked at all the nicotine stained photos of him posted in his bar with celebrities like Barbara Mandrel, Evel Kneivel, random naked chicks and a few war photos of him when he had two eyes. George was a true lady’s man and even gave one of the prettier gals of our group a temporary Harley tattoo. It did seem a bit strange that he pressed the tattoo on her arm with a warm rag for at least ten minutes. I think he really liked touching such young skin. Sadly, he never said how he lost his eye.
Cruising to our next waterhole the driver took us down a steep hill though some back alley. We actually passed a few baggers on the way screaming along at what felt like Mach 5 somehow not tipping over our rig during heavy g-force that I have only experienced on roller coasters. Flying through back alleys with the scent of whiskey and weed trailing behind.
What a better way to see the streets of the 110th H-D Anniversary than on a bicycle. We were able to heckle pedestrians and bikers legally and most importantly safely. Well, sort of.
Four out of the five bars we visited were playing disco. I had no clue that crappy ‘70s music was in such fashion. Why does Milwaukee have such poor taste in music? By the end of the night I witnessed some dude blasting Lionel Richie with the volume turned up to 11 in the parking lot of a seedy strip club. The disco and Lionel Richie made me wonder, would anyone laugh if you yelled out “freebird” at a disco? Or would you be kicked out and told never to return? Would I even care? No, the Harley owners I met this weekend and I am happy and proud of our cultural phenomenons. Everyone else can go dance the YMCA.