By Blair Jackson
Even though Bikes, Blues & BBQ has become a firm tradition in Fayetteville, there are some locals who cannot be lured to Dickson Street during the four-day rally, even with the promise of deep-fried turkey legs and funnel cakes the size of hubcaps.
While many people see the rally as one of the best times of the year, others see only two options — avoid the rally at all costs, or emerge from the chaos as a survivor of yet another stint of motorcycle mayhem.
The restaurants and hotels of Dickson rake in the dough during the rally, but some members of the service industry are forced to fend off rude clientele.
Amanda Barron, a server at Common Grounds, shook her head when asked if she was looking forward to the rally. Like most of the staff on Dickson, she was reluctant to admit that she isn’t crazy about the event. The general consensus seemed to be, “The money’s good, so I can’t complain.”
Amanda’s reservations about the event were based on previous interactions with guests. Last year, a man referred to her as “sugar tits” for the majority of his meal. Will Dillard, who also works at Common Grounds, referenced similar abusive language from a guest, citing an incident where a woman called him “a pussy.”
According to Common Grounds manager Ronell Stafford, the weekend is the most profitable weekend of the year. Servers leave Dickson with a hard-earned $200-$300 in tips — double the earnings of an average weekend. As for the restaurant’s profit, Stafford said, “Basically four days of BB&BBQ pays for the kitchen staff to work for half a year.”
Across the street, the Dickson Street Inn was fully booked for months in advance. Manager Hannah Mills called the rally one of the most lucrative weekends of the year. “It’s more lucrative than a football weekend because there are more days,” she explained.
While the length of the event is good for some, others say it’s bad for them.
Nightbird Books owner Lisa Sharp closes her doors during the event, which cuts her monthly profit by 25 percent. “I moved to Dickson Street knowing that this happens, so I can’t really complain about it,” said Sharp, mirroring the Dickson Street deference to the event as a revenue source. Sharp notes that though the rally does not contribute directly to the success of her business, the event supports the city through sales tax and an increased cash flow among business owners and workers in the service industry.
“I’m willing to tolerate it once a year,” she said. “It’s a really unpleasant thing for most people in town. Local customers leave town and don’t shop.”
It wasn’t the first time someone had mentioned an informal mass evacuation to avoid the noise and traffic.
Jon Cox, who said this is the first time he’s stayed in town, was less than pleased with his first full-fledged immersion. He spent 30 minutes searching for a parking spot and then hoofing it five blocks to work at Dickson Street Bookshop.
Cox used social media to voice his frustrations. In a tweet, he writes, “Just saw at least 80 bikers run a stop sign. AKA breaking the law.”
Cox wasn’t the only one using Twitter and other social media to discuss the rally. Under the tag #bbbbq, there are 200 comments about the event. Complaints of noise and traffic were the most common topics, but there are a few who tweeted about the perks of the rally, like deep-fried Snickers bars and free massages.
In a more controversial use of social media, a bar posted a quote from Urban Dictionary on its Facebook page, defining a biker as follows: “A unique type of dumbass that will ride in your blind spot while you are driving in heavy traffic. When an automobile driver is changing lanes, they will refuse to move, possibly resulting in rear vehicle road pizza. They may also decide to change into your lane when you are turning onto another high traffic road at a major intersection. Afterwards they may blame you for the potentially fatal accident, citing that their bikes are equal to cars, when in reality they are not. Many are backwards rednecks that refuse to get a real job or a real car or even to take a shower.”
Under pressure from an offended party, the bar removed the post. An employee of the bar said the comment was intended to be a simple joke and was not intended to offend anyone. So did the negatively charged post impact the bar’s profit?
“It was busy,” said the employee, who asked to remain unnamed. “The atmosphere was great. A lot of people and fast-paced business for the bar and the street.”
Now, let’s talk about these bikers, who seem to be the most controversial aspect of the entire event. They are notorious for breaking traffic laws, revving their engines and drinking a wee too much, or in some instances way too much. Right?
But, really, how rowdy are they? Though the event has consistently grown each year, the number of arrests and accidents has decreased since 2009.
At the Battle of the Bikes event, proud bike owners were everywhere. Some had tattoos and some wore bandanas. They all wore leather and were all as polite as a pastor’s wife divvying up a freshly baked pecan pie. Though the comparison has the potential to be just as offensive as the one from Urban Dictionary, I stick by my guns.
I didn’t meet a single, mean-spirited biker.
That doesn’t mean there weren’t any in attendance. I certainly didn’t interact with anyone with the audacity to call me “sugar tits,” but I also went during the day, when everyone was sober(ish).
With an uncounted number of bikers in town, there were fewer than 30 arrests over the weekend. The numbers indicate a well-behaved (or well-policed) crowd of people. Another factor to consider is that half of the arrests were local residents, which means the out-of-towners kept out of trouble better than those from Northwest Arkansas.
Rick Churchill, local electrician and motorcyclist, said one of the appeals of the event is the low-crime rate. In Fayetteville, bikers can leave their jackets and other personal belongings on their bikes without concern of theft.
Churchill attributes most of the misconduct during the rally to the consumption of alcohol.
“Some people just shouldn’t drink,” he said. “The same things happen at football games. Alcohol can make people pretty immature. It has nothing to do with motorcycles.”
Mike Henson, known as Sparky, rides with Churchill in the Loners Motorcycle Club. He has been riding
motorbikes since adolescence and finds Bikes, Blues & BBQ too tame for his tastes, pinning the Fayetteville event as his least favorite rally. He prefers rallies that are not marketed as family-friendly, rallies full of “drinking and naked people.”
Churchill hopes that Fayetteville’s event will not evolve into a rowdier rally, saying, “If it gets too big, it will get to be messy. The percentage of unruly people will grow with numbers.”
He likes the rally the way it is.
“Bikes, Blues & BBQ gives people who share the same interests a chance to get together and relax. Any other time of year, bikers are the minority,” Churchill said. The event allows enthusiasts to look at bikes, talk about bikes, meet new people and visit with old friends during their annual visit.
For Churchill, camaraderie binds motorcyclists together. According to Sparky, respect is the common factor.
The bikes, of course, are also a big part of the equation.
“Bikers tend to be nonconformists and a motorcycle is a way to express it,” said Churchill, raising his voice over the revving of an engine. “Like that,” he says, hooking his thumb toward the street, indicating the passing biker who had revved the motor. “You get to be naughty.”
This could be the core of the love-hate relationship Fayetteville has with the rally. For four days of the year, the city is forced to yield to an abrasive affront of nonconformist behavior that is impossible to escape if you work, live or play downtown.
With low statistics in crime and accidents, great music and a backbone in charity, Bikes, Blues & BBQ is a tradition that, frankly, has no reason to stop. Those who truly hate the noise and the hassle can continue to make the yearly exodus, turning to social media to voice their frustrations.
And those on the fence, will grab a corndog and sit on Dickson awhile, watching the leather-clad rebels pass through.