The fact that police cordoned off Dickson Street on a Wednesday night for the first time ever was a pretty strong indicator this year’s Bikes, Blues & BBQ (BBB) rally was going to be a good one. By Saturday night, walking up Dickson Street was an elbow-to-elbow, shoulder-to-shoulder affair. It took more than a half-hour to walk up just one side of the street from the beer garden to the crest of the hill. The street was alive, a cacophony of deep-throated V-Twins and redlining Inline Fours wailing mixed with guitar runs and drum beats spilling from the windows of the numerous bars and pubs lining the Fayetteville thoroughfare.
Event attendance figures are often arrived at arbitrarily, so exact numbers for the 2015 Bikes, Blues & BBQ Rally are a moot point. Riders showed up in droves. It definitely felt more packed than the last time we were here back in 2011. Washington County Fairgrounds, the official campground of the rally, was slammed, with tents huddled under the eaves of the outbuildings and the parking lot full of toy haulers. With Indian, Victory, Yamaha and Harley all offering demo rides at Baum Stadium, the venue attracted a steady flow of rally-goers. There was so much going on we didn’t even have a chance to check out the festivities at the Arvest Ball Park venue in Springdale, which is too bad because it hosted the Ozark Vintage Motorcycles Association’s Vintage Bike Show, a classic car show, and fireworks! After seeing the amount of rusted relics sitting next to barns and in pastures throughout the nearby countryside, we can only imagine what cool, classic bikes were in the show. If we had one more day, maybe we would have been able to take it all in.
A great crowd turned out for the annual “Battle of the Bikes” Saturday afternoon.
We did partake in Friday’s Firefighter’s Poker Run though. The event is put on by the Fayetteville chapter of the International Association of Firefighters with proceeds benefiting Camp Sunshine and the Special Olympics. The poker run took us on a 160-mile journey through the back roads of northwest Arkansas, looping up to Eureka Springs on Highway 23 before turning south on Highway 21 to Kingston, then doubling back on Highway 16. Cards were drawn at biker-friendly joints like The Cathouse Lounge in Eureka Springs’ historic downtown district and the local BBQ and brew hangout known as Sugar Booger’s.
We rolled through Highway 23’s series of sweepers at an aggressive clip, the 1811cc Thunder Stroke 111 of the 2016 Indian Chieftain offering no shortage of power. School kids lined the main street into Eureka Springs twisting imaginary throttles as they beckoned bikers to rev their engines. We dropped the pace after that to enjoy the scenery, farmland and ranches, as cows wandered lazily in fields and rolls of harvested hay. The first leaves of fall dropped like light rain from the trees as they began littering the road. A bright-eyed blond brother and sister, knee-high to a grasshopper, stood roadside with their grandmother waving to every biker that passed by. We met a familiar friend on Highway 16, a piece of folk art cobbled together from bits of this and that to create a metal hawg on a hog, the rusty wheel of its raked-out chopper lofted in air. The creation in question comes with its own storied past, a Pecos Bill-sized tale of it being ridden by General Custer to hunt buffalo, with General Pershing using it during his punitive expedition into Mexico, then the bike carrying “Little Boy” to Los Alamos before finally being used to haul moonshine. This is Razorback country, after all.
While our hand was a random collection of nothingness, Todd Guerrero rode away a happy man as the big winner of Friday’s poker run, banking $1100 for his best hand of four aces. Charlotte Berger took home a cool $800 with four Jacks, while Dawn Holder had to be happy with the $600 her four 10’s earned. Bobbi Diane Masden had the best hand on Saturday’s poker run, claiming the $1100 bounty with four 10’s. Jesse J. Hallmon, Jr. just missed out on best hand with four 9’s, while Ronald Thomas claimed the $600 third prize money with his four 2’s.
After riding all day Friday, we headed out to the fairgrounds to watch the Bikes, Blues & BBQ “Lawn Mower Pulls” for some good ol’ fashioned fun. The tractors ranged from traditional John Deeres with stump-pulling power to modified hotrods with gasser-style pipes coming off the block and fat custom wheels on the back. Some were equipped with a weighted arm sticking out the front end to keep the tractor from popping too big a wheelie. Classes ranged from 12 horsepower stock to 200 horsepower super-modified. One by one, pullers were chained to the sled to see who could pull it the furthest. Riders used a lot of body English attempting to keep their tractors in-line while they chugged across the arena. Adding a little regional fun and flavor, the event put on by the Booger County MiniHot Rod Pullers elicited big cheers from the appreciative BBB crowd.
Loud ovations were heard at the “Battle of the Bikes” custom bike show the next day, too. Promoter Earl “The Pearl” Stokes said 48 custom motorcycles competed in 10 classes for the sought after “Battle Belt.” The event is all about crowd participation as the overall winner is the motorcycle that gets the loudest cheers. While big-wheeled baggers were representing, it was honest old-fashioned handiwork that won over the crowd. The winning motorcycle was chock-full of repurposed parts, from an old copper fire extinguisher that now houses the headlight to a Jell-O mold serving as an air cleaner cover. A familiar face rode off with the “Battle Belt,” as Scotty “Memphis” Robertson of Steele, Missouri, won Bikes, Blues & BBQ’s “Battle of the Bikes” for the third year running. And while “Memphis” was the big winner, just about every motorcycle had its own story behind it, including vets building motorcycles to help with PTSD to riders that battled cancer and are just happy to ride again.
Saturday a motorcycle “Parade of Power” made its way from Washington County Fairgrounds to Dickson Street. But there’s constantly a “Parade of Power” on Dickson as cruising up and down the street is a featured rally attraction, as is simply posting up and watching bikes go by. We applaud the guy in the full bunny suit who paraded up and down the street all day long despite the heat. Maybe the fact that every time we saw him he had a different girl on the back of his motorcycle made being stuffed in a bunny suit bearable.
As the name suggests, music is a major part of the BBB Rally and the entertainment at this year’s event didn’t disappoint. Hot Lix looked and played the part of the quintessential hair band of the ‘80s, from their spandex pants to the set list of sing-a-long rock songs. Rising country star Barrett Baber, a contestant on the TV show The Voice, packed the Dickson Street main stage Saturday. Our next-door neighbors at the Econo Lodge happened to be the guys from Mountain Sprout, a bunch of good ol’ boys from nearby Eureka Springs. One of my favorite memories of the rally was the impromptu jam they held outside our hotel room when Mountain Sprout’s Dan, aka “Squash Blossom,” lent my buddy Tony a guitar. Sitting there while the two picked and played, strumming tunes and singing along, a little harmonica thrown in every now and then for good measure, was definitely a foot-tappin’ moment.
The Miss Bikes, Blues & BBQ competition is always another crowd-generator. It kicked off Friday night when 15 women competed in the bikini contest during the preliminaries at the Washington County Fairgrounds before being whittled down to five. Saturday night, Kim Ugartechea won the crowd over to grab first place and pocket the $1000 check that went along with the title of Miss Bikes, Blues & BBQ 2015.
Another major component of the rally is the annual BBQ cook-off. It started with a “People’s Choice” portion Friday night followed by an official KCBS BBQ Contest Saturday. Boy, it sure smelled good. Looked good, too. But a bike issue prevented us from getting there early enough to get a ticket Friday night. Despite arriving only 10 minutes after they opened the doors, the event was already sold out. Not even the fact that we came from Oregon and were there to cover the event for MotoUSA earned us a ticket to sample some vittles. But it sure smelled good.
Southern hospitality may have eluded us at the BBQ cook-off, but we have to commend Bikes, Blues & BBQ rally-goers for their behavior. Even though you could barely walk down Dickson Street Saturday night, people remained cordial and polite. Many brought their children out to enjoy watching all the motorcycles. The Fayetteville Flyer reported only 38 arrests over a four-day period, along with 15 accidents and three stolen motorcycles according to the Fayetteville P.D. Bikes, Blues & BBQ is the first major rally in recent memory that didn’t have any fatal motorcycle accidents associated with it. And even though Arkansas is a helmets optional state, I saw more riders gearing up and wearing helmets than Sturgis or Daytona Beach.
Bikes, Blues & BBQ is a rally full of Southern charm, from the people to the tractor pulls. The Arkansas Ozarks offer a wealth of rides to stimulate the senses. Then there’s the music. It’s a rally with a flavor all its own, a flavor we’re quickly developing a taste for.
- We made it! We cruised up to the rally from Austin on a 2016 Indian Chieftain.
- A steady stream of performers played on the main stage of the Dickson Street Beer Garden during the 2015 BBB Rally.
- The top three bikes in ten classes all received a Bikes, Blues & BBQ Battle of the Bikes award.
- The bikini contest is just one part of the Miss Bikes, Blues & BBQ contest.