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32nd annual Laughlin River Run: Rockin’ the Mojave

By PJ Hyland

LAUGHLIN, NEV., APR 24-27—Heading north on the 15 Freeway out of the western section of SoCal towards Interstate 40 east to Laughlin Nevada, I’m finding it difficult to concentrate for more than a few minutes at a pop thanks to the excellent riding conditions augmented by the relatively smooth road surface. I take the Laughlin River Run personally, and at this point I’m looking forward to the extravaganza that Joe O’Day of Dalcon Promotions puts on each year.

Rollin through "downtown" Oatman, Arizona

Rollin through “downtown” Oatman, Arizona

This year the Laughlin River Run was stacked with musical attractions for the entertainment of attendees. Thanks to M.J. Smith, executive director of the Laughlin Tourism Bureau, I had a ticket to the Jason Aldean concert at the 8,000-seat Laughlin Amphitheater waiting for me at will call on Thursday evening. That’s a good thing because ticket prices for the Jason Aldean concert started at $77. He and his band played several of his greatest hits including “Big Green Tractor,” “She’s Country,” “My Kinda Party,” “Dirt Road Anthem” and a bunch more. The crowd included a lot of local non-biker types who came to hear their favorite country singer.

Jason Aldean kicks the show into high gear

Jason Aldean kicks the show into high gear (photo by Jon DeMaria)

On Friday night, thanks to the gracious consideration of Gary Blanton, assistant entertainment director at the Riverside Resort Hotel & Casino, I got in to see Great White at Don Laughlin’s Celebrity Theater. All seats were priced at $20, and man did they sound good! Terry Llous, their new lead singer since 2011, tore it up and dominated the stage with his presence. Original guitarist Mark Kendall ripped the band’s classic songs a new one. It was great to hear their hits “Rock Me,” “Save Your Love” and their anthem “Once Bitten Twice Shy.” The band has sold over eight million records worldwide.

On Saturday evening Amy Spero and Michael Brown, officials at Harrah’s in Laughlin, saw to it that I had good seats for the Los Lobos and Los Lonely Boys concert in the casino’s nearly sold-out 3,100-seat outdoor amphitheater. Ticket prices started at $22 and, although they are headliners in their own right, Los Lonely Boys were the opening act that evening. When they played their hit “Heaven” the crowd went ballistic. Then Los Lobos took the stage and cranked out a few songs before they began playing some of their hits like “How Will the Wolf Survive” and their energetic rendition of the Mexican folk classic “La Bamba.” If the place had a roof, the combination of the crowd response and the band’s reprisal of their anthem would have blown it off.

M.J. Smith also took care of THUNDER PRESS contributor Jon DeMaria and his lady Rae by leaving tickets at will call for the Lynyrd Skynyrd concert on Saturday night at the Laughlin Amphitheater. When I asked Jon to give me his impressions of the concert, he told me, “From the downbeat, the crew running the mixing board had the system sounding great. The crowd was primed for a love-fest and the iconic Southern rock band didn’t disappoint.”

Lynyrd Skynyrd rocks the sold-out Laughlin Amphitheater

Lynyrd Skynyrd rocks the sold-out Laughlin Amphitheater (photo by Jon DeMaria)

Heather from Bodies Bar at the Riverside Resort pours a skull shot

Heather from Bodies Bar at the Riverside Resort pours a skull shot

As is the case every year during the Laughlin River run, the party raged on all day and well into the night at a number of venues located on the main street of this pocket-sized Glitter Gulch. If you had dropped by the Bodies Bar in the parking lot of the Riverside Resort, you could have enjoyed the classic rock from the all-girls band Cougrzz Rock. The Center Circle stage, set up in the parking lot in front of the Colorado Belle, featured kickass blues bands including John Earl & The Boogie Man Band, Chris Hiatt, Preston Shannon, plus Deb Ryder & The Blues Ryders from late morning until 10:00 p.m. each night. On their Loading Dock outdoor stage the Belle also presented entertainment provided by duos and single acts nightly from 6:00 to 10 p.m. The Golden Nugget Outdoor Lounge featured The Garage Boys and Tony Marques as well as Hogs Breath until midnight every night during the River Run. Once again this year Michelle Dell set up the Laughlin version of her notorious Hogs & Heifers Bar at the Edgewater Hotel & Casino. As if the preceding list of options didn’t constitute entertainment overkill, several of the casinos also presented entertainment in their lounges every night.

But I’m still not finished with the entertainment options available in the area. If you felt like motoring down to the Avi Hotel and Casino on Saturday evening you could have enjoyed the dinner show featuring Hotel California, an Eagles tribute band. Now I’m done. Well… almost. I should probably mention that some of the watering holes on the strip in Bullhead City also had bands playing during the afternoon and into the night.

The SoCal H-D Dealers Association presents Jeanne "JJ" Jaite (center, with plaque) with the Rider of the Year award for reaching the 200,000-mile mark on her original 1998 FXSTC

The SoCal H-D Dealers Association presents Jeanne “JJ” Jaite (center, with plaque) with the Rider of the Year award for reaching the 200,000-mile mark on her original 1998 FXSTC (photo by Jon DeMaria)

JT Hasley and Mark Ruffalo test the two-up capabilities on the new H-D Street

JT Hasley and Mark Ruffalo test the two-up capabilities on the new H-D Street (photo by Jon DeMaria)

Once again this year the 23 dealerships that comprise the SoCal Harley-Davidson Dealers Association, plus Mother Road H-D in Kingman, Arizona, and Las Vegas H-D, offered Harley enthusiasts the opportunity to book a discounted hotel package for the duration of the River Run weekend. The Tropicana on S. Casino Drive hosted the several hundred riders and their passengers who took advantage of the deal. The SoCal H-D Dealers Association also brought the Harley-Davidson demo van back to the River Run this year, which unloaded its cargo of 2014 models for riders to test ride in the Tropicana parking lot. We had a chance to catch up with Mark Ruffalo, owner of California Harley-Davidson and president of the SoCal Harley-Davidson Dealers Association, in the lobby of the Tropicana. He offered the following observations: “When I stop and think about how much time and energy it takes to put this thing together every year, I wonder how it all gets done. The effort necessary to coordinate the process with all the dealers, The Motor Company, the Tropicana and Joe Day of Dalcon Promotions; man, it’s mind-boggling. On the other hand, I wouldn’t miss it for anything. I’m not only the president of the SoCal Dealers Association, I’m also the president of the California Motorcycle Dealers Association; that’s all motorcycle dealers in California. I’m proud that we do a lot in both associations to help protect our riding privileges.” River Run attendees were also offered the opportunity to test ride Indian and Victory motorcycles at the Riverside vendor area.

The people at Dalcon Promotions staged two official poker runs this year. The annual American Heroes Charity Poker Run left the Tropicana parking lot, as it does every year, at 10:00 a.m. sharp with Scott Kellerman, co-owner of Antelope Valley H-D, piloting his Ultra Classic and his wife Laurie in the passenger seat leading the pack. Mother Road Harley-Davidson served as the run’s destination, as per usual.

The Hogs & Heifers girls gather for a friendly greeting on their huge traveling bar

The Hogs & Heifers girls gather for a friendly greeting on their huge traveling bar (photo by Jon DeMaria)

Instead of the usual one-day official poker run, the organizers at Dalcon Promotions decided to allow registrants three days—Thursday, Friday and Saturday—to collect their respective poker hands. The loop took participants down to Lake Havasu with a stop at Pirates Cove in Needles, California. Then officials posted the top seven hands (money winners) and their holders outside the Loading Dock Restaurant in the Colorado Belle at 6:00 p.m. on Saturday evening. I showed up to find out if the holder of the high hand would be there, and sure enough Jimmy Adler from Henderson, Nevada, who had turned in a royal flush was there hanging out with some of his pals waiting for the posting. Needless to say, the group was in a festive mood.

Squaring off with a stubborn burro on Main Street in Oatman

Squaring off with a stubborn burro on Main Street in Oatman

On the chance that you simply couldn’t consider your River Run trip a success unless you participated in at least one more poker run, you would have been in luck. The Avi Casino’s poker run started at 9:00 a.m. on Friday morning and featured a $1,000 prize for both the high and low hands (see page 36 for the full report from the Avi.)

As much as I always enjoy the Friday morning American Heroes Poker Run following Route 66 out of Kingman and then carving up the eight-mile stretch of canyon road that brings that venerable highway into Oatman, Arizona, I must admit I’m equally jazzed by the people-watching opportunities available in that former mining town. It’s probably enough that the invariably hot, sunny conditions encourage the ladies to strip down to their tank tops, but when you factor in the sight of opulent, chrome-encrusted V-twin motorcycles negotiating the narrow pedestrian-clogged byway while dodging feral donkeys, the scene needs to be witnessed in person to be fully appreciated. When I happen to notice that the arid desert conditions have left me parched, I like to drop-in at the Oatman Hotel for some frosty libations and live entertainment.

Megan Lloyd Davies gets inked by Dustin from Creepshow Tattoos in Visalia, California at the Laughlin Tattoo Convention in the RIver Palms

Megan Lloyd Davies gets inked by Dustin from Creepshow Tattoos in Visalia, California at the Laughlin Tattoo Convention in the RIver Palms

It’s no secret that for more than a decade following the shootout between the Hell’s Angels and Mongols on the gaming floor at Harrah’s 2002, in which a Mongol and two Hell’s Angels were killed, the law enforcement tactics employed during the River Run have been aggressive, to say the least. Regarding issues encountered by this year’s law enforcement contingent, Julie Fairman, editor of the Laughlin Nevada Times, quoted Lt. John Healy, commander of the Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Department’s Laughlin Station, as saying, “Overall it was a safe, enjoyable event.”

Joe O'Day of Dalcon Promotions with Paul Ponkow of Bones Legacy Choppers, who scored Best of Show at the Belle for "Black Rainbow"

Joe O’Day of Dalcon Promotions with Paul Ponkow of Bones Legacy Choppers, who scored Best of Show at the Belle for “Black Rainbow”

The bike show, which, as usual, took place on the “deck” of the Colorado Belle, included more than 20 bikes (and there really isn’t room for many more). Although the show is relatively small in size, it tends to bring out some of the top builders in the West. This year was no exception, as perennial podium dweller Paul Ponkow of Bones Legacy Choppers in Las Vegas walked off with the Best of Show for his “Black Rainbow” custom. Robert Byrd took second and Michael Martinez was awarded third place. Rounding out the entertainment options was the tattoo convention staged indoors in the River Palms Casino.

John Shopes crazy "Chrome King" custom Road King

John Shopes crazy “Chrome King” custom Road King

I don’t always feel compelled to close an article with a sentence or two that puts a neat little bow on an event’s proceedings, but this year I thought I’d mention that, despite the high winds that diminished the usually stellar riding experience in the area, the perennial attendees as well as the first time attendees I interviewed all agreed that the City of Laughlin in cooperation with Dalcon Promotions did their usual spot-on job of producing the annual River Run.

The winner of the Tropicana's Laughlin River Run raffle saddles up on her new Heritage Classic

The winner of the Tropicana’s Laughlin River Run raffle saddles up on her new Heritage Classic (photo by Jon DeMaria)

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