Fayetteville, Arkansas is home to the fastest growing motorcycle rally in the country. In just four short years, the Bikes, Blues & BBQ Motorcycle Rally has grown to over 125,000 attendees, which more than doubles last year’s attendance of 50,000. Proceeds from the event benefits the Washington County’s Council on Aging Meals-on-Wheels program, which serves over 600 meals to the elderly in northwest Arkansas every day.
Why is Bikes, Blues and BBQ such a popular event, you might ask? That’s exactly what we were wondering, so we decided to ride on down and find out for ourselves.
On Thursday morning, October 2nd I pulled into the parking lot of Gail’s Harley-Davidson in Belton, Missouri to meet up with fellow partners in crime, Greg and Lisa Bartley and Terry & Goldie Arnold. It was a clear and unseasonably cold morning, so as soon as everyone arrived we hopped on Highway 71, which would take us straight into Fayetteville and hopefully some warmer weather.
Terry, Goldie and I all hit reserve about the same time, so we stopped in Lamar, Missouri to refuel, warm up and grab a bite to eat. The gas station attendant suggested a restaurant just across the highway called The Blue Top Inn, which was a good recommendation. After we’d finished eating, we walked outside and were pleasantly surprised to find that it had warmed up enough for us to shed one of our several layers of clothes. Just as we were ready to mount up, another group of riders pulled into the parking lot. Being the friendly and curious group that we are, we struck up a conversation with one of the riders and soon realized we had met some of them before.
The first rider I recognized was Harold Coons who I’d met just a few weeks earlier at the Missouri State H.O.G. Rally in Kansas City. Harold was introduced to me by Carl Busse, a marketing specialist for our magazine. Small world! They were also headed to the rally, and after chatting with them for a few minutes we wished them a safe ride and exchanged cell phone numbers in hopes of hooking up again down in Fayetteville.
Our last stop was in Bella Vista, Arkansas to refuel and shed another layer of clothes, then rolled into Fayetteville around 3 p.m. Following the directions we were given and Greg’s GPS, we exited Highway 71 onto Highway 62 and made our way west to the intersection of Highway 62 and Finger Road. We turned south on Finger Road, and began looking for the place we would be spending the next three nights. Several weeks prior to our trip, Goldie searched the Internet and found a place called Deepwood House. According to their web site, Deepwood House is an award-winning architectural masterpiece built on 40 acres of forest on Mt. Kessler, and within eight minutes of downtown Fayetteville.
I guess the name “Deepwood” House should have been our first clue, because a mile or so down Finger Road we came around a corner and suddenly ran out of road…or should I say pavement! Where the pavement ended, a narrow, steep, winding gravel road disappeared around a corner up into the trees. I assumed we had missed a turn or were on the wrong road, but according to Greg’s GPS and the directions we’d received from the owner, this was the correct road.
Apparently, the lady Goldie reserved the house through failed to mention the mile-long gravel road leading to the place. Goldie told her we were on bikes and wanted to make sure the road to the house was OK, and she assured her it was. Either the lady thought we were riding dirt bikes or she really wanted to rent the place, because this was not a road you want to take cruisers up and down every day and night, especially when they’re calling for rain.
Hoping the gravel road wasn’t as bad as it looked we decided to cross our fingers and ride on. We quickly found out that crossing our fingers or any other body part wasn’t going to do any good, because the road got narrower, steeper, and the rocks got larger. The whole way up this road, all I could think of was how much this sucked and how great a story it would make.
After about a mile of hill climbing, we rode past a house where a large Labrador Retriever with one of those cones around its neck that keeps it from eating itself ran out to the road barking at us like it wanted to attack. Assuming this wasn’t our place, and because it was too steep to stop on the gravel and think about it, we rode on until we came to the “end of the road”…so to speak. There was a house there, but we could tell it was uninhabited and had a for sale sign in the yard. It then struck us that the place with the alien dog must be Deepwood House, so we turned around and rode back down the road.
A young guy named Corey, and two more dogs, welcomed us as we rode up the driveway. As it turns out, between the time Goldie reserved the house and when we arrived, the lady sold the place to Corey and his wife who moved into the house next to Deepwood House to care for it and rent it out. I felt sorry for Corey as everyone got off their bikes cursing under their breath (or almost under their breath) about the gravel road we had just somehow managed to ascend without dumping our bikes. He was very nice and apologized over and over for the former owner’s lack of communication about the condition of the road leading up to the house.
After calming down a bit, we figured that as long as we were there we might as well check out the place and try to figure out what to do next. Corey showed us around the house, and it was a very neat place. It had vaulted ceilings with windows running the full length of the house on both sides, and the entire floor was made of huge slabs of rock. The place resembled a cozy hunting lodge with lots of open space and a stone fireplace. Since the place was pretty cool, plus the fact that we’d already paid and there probably weren’t any other rooms available within an hour’s ride of Fayetteville, we decided to find a rental car and leave our bikes in the parking lot of the Day’s Inn just down the road where some other friends of ours were staying.
After picking up the rental car and securing it at the Day's Inn, we hopped on the bikes, and headed to Dickson Street for a much needed drink and some food. Bikes lined both sides of Dickson so we took a side street and found a spot to park near the vendor area. It became quite obvious why this street was the hub of the rally because with this being a college town (University of Arkansas), there was plenty of nightlife.
We located Rain Nietzold, who is the editor/publisher of Biker Alley magazine. Rain had a booth setup in the vendor area for the rally and we talked with her and her husband, Bob before heading into a bar to meet one of Greg’s old army buddies and his wife. They live in Fayetteville and told us some good places to eat. After a few drinks, we decided to walk next door to the Ozark Brewing Company. The food was really good, the service was really slow, and we were having such a good time we really didn’t care. After dinner, everyone was tired from the ride so we called it a night and rode back to the Day’s Inn, secured the bikes and climbed into the rental car for the trip back up the gravel road to our “award-winning” house.
On Friday morning, October 3rd I awoke to the pitter patter of raindrops hitting the roof. Crap! After breakfast, several cups of coffee and waiting for the rain to stop, we finally piled into the rental car around 3 p.m. for the ride down the steep, narrow, rocky and now wet, gravel road. We once again left the rental car in the parking lot of the Day’s Inn, hopped on our bikes and headed out of town for a ride on a scenic stretch of road called the Pig’s Trail. I thought it should have been called the Pig’s Tail with all the twisty turns and 10 mph corners, but whatever you call it, it was one of the most scenic roads I have ever seen.
After some breathtaking scenery, we rode back to Fayetteville and made our way to Dickson Street for a street party. We ate on the patio in front of the Dickson Street Theater, then made our way to Powerhouse Seafood to cover the Ms. Bikes, Blues & BBQ semifinals for our magazine. Preliminaries for the contest had taken place August 23rd through October 3rd and the finals were scheduled for Saturday evening, October 4th on the main stage.
The Powerhouse had a great band playing and about 9:30 p.m. the Ms. Bikes, Blues & BBQ semifinalists took the stage. Goldie introduced herself to Liz Wilyard, one of the event directors and Liz was excited about having Cycle Connections Magazine do an article on the contest. Liz invited us backstage between sets so we could meet with the girls and the rest of the directors. The girls took the stage once again and the crowd went wild as Jennifer Word, Stephanie Anderson, Marieka Conn and Bridget Trotter were announced as the finalists. Make sure to check out Goldie’s 4th Annual Ms. Bikes, Blues & BBQ article for photos and complete coverage of the event.
After the Ms. Bikes, Blues & BBQ contest, we called our good friends, Jerry & Reva, who had a table on the patio at The Gypsy, a popular nightclub on Dickson Street. We made our way down the crowded sidewalk and into the bar, where there was quite a party going on. There were girls flashing the crowd, dancing on the tables, and our waitress even flashed us after some encouragement from Jerry. We spent the rest of the evening at The Gypsy, then rode back to the Day’s Inn, locked up the bikes, and took the rental car back to the house.
On Saturday morning, October 4th we woke up to a beautiful, sunny day. It was also much warmer, so we decided to take a ride to the Devil’s Den State Park. It was another very scenic ride with lots of twisty turns. After the ride we were running a little late so we decided to take Highway 71 back to Fayetteville to Dickson Street.
Everyone headed to The Gypsy, but I decided to check out the Campbell Bike Show first, which had several awesome custom bikes on display. After checking out the bike show, I headed down the street to catch the Parade of Power which started at the Northwest Arkansas Mall and made its way down Dickson Street. The finalists for the Ms. Bikes, Blues & BBQ contest were in the parade, along with an endless line of bikers. After the parade ended, everyone got another special treat when Jesse James from West Coast Choppers made his way down the street and signed autographs in a nearby parking lot.
After taking a few photos, I made my way into Jose’s bar to meet another good friend, Susan Fleming and her sister and brother-in-law Dennis & Lynn Brunkow who had ridden down for the rally with Dennis McCarty and a few other friends. After a couple margaritas we made our way to The Gypsy to meet up with the others and head over to Powerhouse Seafood for a quick dinner before heading to the main stage for the Ms. Bikes, Blues & BBQ finals.
We got to the main stage just in time to go backstage and talk with some of the finalists. Arkansas National Bank and Knight Time Tattoos sponsored the event and Goldie was able to interview Nat Bothwell of Arkansas National Bank, who was also one of the judges for the event. While talking with Nat, we also found out that Nat’s BBQ team, Arkansas National Bank, was awarded Grand Champion of the 1st Annual BBQ Cook-Off. Congratulations Nat!
While the judge’s scores were being tallied, Liz Lottman organized the drawing for the Yamaha 2003 Road Star Midnight giveaway, provided by Yamaha of Fayetteville and Arvest Bank. Bill Eddy, owner of Yamaha of Fayetteville, drew the winning ticket and Kristie Fontenot of Fayetteville was the winner. After the winners for the Ms. Bikes, Blues & BBQ contest were announced, we made one last pass through the vendor area then rode back to the Day’s Inn to get the rental car for our nightly drive back to the house.
On Sunday, Morning, October 5th we woke up to a light drizzle and after returning the rental car to the airport we headed back home to Kansas City.
So, after experiencing this rally firsthand, to answer the question I posed at the beginning of this article, “Why is Bikes, Blues and BBQ such a popular event,” I’d have to say that when you combine the scenery of the beautiful Ozark Mountains with the party atmosphere of a college town, toss in a BBQ Cook-Off, Ms. Bikes, Blues & BBQ contest, Parade of Power, and live performances by groups such as The Neville Brothers and Blues Traveler, you’ve got the makings for the fastest growing motorcycle event in the country!
Make sure to check out the Bikes, Blues & BBQ web site and don’t forget to mark your calendar for the 5th Annual Bikes, Blues & BBQ Motorcycle Rally scheduled for September 29 through October 2, 2004.
Story and Photos by Mike Schweder