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Hollister 70th Anniversary Independence Rally: An iron anniversary

By “Rambler” Steve Austin

Hollister, Calif., June 30–July 2—Thousands of motorcycles roared their way into Hollister on the first weekend in July to commemorate the birth of the American biker image. It has been 70 years since the first riot and a photo of a bike inside of a bar in Hollister gave birth to that image, and the event is still going strong.

Back this year was the ever-popular street parking on San Benito Street under the watchful eye of Hollister’s famed 108-year-old clock tower atop the Eastern Star Masonic Temple. The city of Hollister uses the clock tower as its official logo. As riders came into town, they were given their own lane which led directly into the parking area stretching from 4th to 7th Streets. If you drove anything but a bike, good luck finding parking anywhere close to San Benito Street as this was where all the events were located.

Friday was the first day and bikes started sneaking in before the barricades were opened. Check-in was at The Vault restaurant. For $60 you could get your VIP packet and this was where you picked them up. Included in the packet was an official event T-shirt, admission to VIP parties including food and beverages, VIP concert areas, three-day parking pass, ride pin, VIP badge, official H.O.G. tag, participation in bike games and an official program. But since it was a free event you could skip all that and just get the free program and buy a $15 T-shirt from an official vendor.

Saturday it was hard to tell who was parked and who was supposed to be moving on San Benito Street

Actor and CHiPs alum, Erik Estrada, was the celebrity rally host for Friday and was busy making the rounds with his old friend Hollister Mayor Ignacio Velasquez. Ignacio was a BMX bicycle rider and rode in several episodes of the popular TV show. Erik didn’t turn anyone down for a photo or an autograph and he seemed to be everywhere at once whether it was looking at the bikes, posing with fans or standing in Monte Perlin’s Globe of Death with motorcycles flying around him. The mayor said of the rally, “This is biker history that started in 1947 and is known around the world.”

The crowd couldn’t get enough of Erik Estrada and crowded around him for photos

Road Shows was the event promoter for the second year in a row and owner Randy Burke seemed to have things well in hand. He likewise was everywhere at once and made sure everything ran smoothly and pitched in where help was needed. He told THUNDER PRESS, “I’ve been blessed to be able to do what I love, producing hot rod and motorcycle shows for the last 25 years.” Road Shows is involved in shows from the East Coast to the West Coast. There’s Street Vibrations in Reno, and shows in Daytona Beach, Milwaukee, Minneapolis, and Ocean Shores in Washington, just to name a few. Randy views these events as his “fortune and his passion” although he says there isn’t a huge amount of cash ‘fortune” in it for him. He just loves doing it.

The entertainment was top notch. Even though they were largely tribute bands they gave stellar performances. Cruella was an all-girl Mötley Crüe tribute band and lead singer Cindy Lynne put an entirely different spin on Vince Neil’s vocals. Skyynyn Lynnyrd from Vacaville closed out Friday night with some awesome Lynyrd Skynyrd tunes. Beer Drinkers and Hell Raisers, that little band from the Bay Area, let us all enjoy some “Cheap Sunglasses” and “Sharp Dressed Man” with their long beards and ZZ Top costumes and Caravanserai tried to convince us to “Change Our Evil Ways” with some great Santana tunes, closing out Saturday night with the largest crowd I’ve ever seen at a Hollister rally performance. The Fog City Swampers from San Francisco took us down “Green River” with some Credence Clearwater Revival and there was no shortage of just some good old rock-and-roll bands like Lucky Tongue from Idaho who played some great 60’s harmony tunes from bands like the Beatles and the Mamas and the Papas, all-girl band Cougarzz Rock, The Shanks, and Moondance. Of course, Sunday was closed out by Charlie Brechtel on the Harley-Davidson Stage who rolled down out of the California Sierras with the rest of his band to entertain bikers with his own brand of rockin’ blues with a biker spin.

HolliWell-known biker, actor and musician Charlie Brechtel closed out the Hollister Rally Sunday afternoon

Harley-Davidson sent out their big semi-truck from Milwaukee but instead of demo rides this year, they had set up one of their Street Glides on a stationary test stand to demonstrate their brand-new Milwaukee-Eight motor that replaced all the bagger and trike motors this year. There are some huge changes. First off, it’s a rubber-mounted counterbalanced motor. Softails have had a counterbalanced system for a long time. This makes this a smooth-running motor. There’s slimmer engine profile, better fuel economy, more horsepower, lifetime adjusted valves, higher output alternator and last but not least, it’s a single cam again with no tensioners to replace every 30,000 miles. Look for this motor in all the Big Twins in the next couple years. It is, as they say, “the next big thing” in the Harley world.

Paul Grams of San Jose test drove it and said it was a nice bike and was real smooth but had too many electronics for him. He’s old school and still prefers his 1977 Big Twin but a lot of folks came away very impressed with the new motor, its smoothness and power response. I’m guessing progress will win out.

If you were looking for bikes in a bar to relive that original Hollister experience you didn’t have to go back in time to do it. The Wild Ones Saloon setup at the VFW Hall on San Benito Street was just what the mechanic ordered. They had several bikes parked on the floor of the saloon and two bars going at the same time. But by Saturday afternoon they could have used six due to the crowds. The band Soul Kiss who was playing might have had something to do with it. The awesomely-equipped bartenders Kristin and Julie were doing their best at my bar. There was supposed to be a Miss Hollister Contest there but there weren’t enough contestants to hold a contest. My thinking was that we only needed one Miss Hollister and two contestants to make it a contest but no one listened to me and the three girls who expressed interest went on their way and I went back to my beer. The Wild Ones Saloon was the brainchild of Rey Sotelo and his wife, Angie, at Powersports in Hollister although Julie gave most of the credit to Angie. This was its fourth year and the second at the Vets Hall and it looked like it’s taken its place in Hollister history.

The top prize in the Top Hatters 70th annual Poker Run was a brand-new guitar autographed by all the members. Nancy Harris of Milpitas won the guitar but she gave it to Dennis Osorio, leader of the band who played, Los Scuby and El Fuego.

Top Hatters MC of Hollister, formed in Hollister back in 1947, holds their Anniversary Poker Run every year during the rally and this year was no exception. Stops included Corbin, Grillin’ and Chillin’, Hollister Powersports and Paine’s Restaurant where it started and ended. They had over 200 people show up and a few thousand dollars in raffle prizes including a beautiful $800 Trans Midnight Blue Schecter guitar autographed by all the Hollister Top Hatters. Los Scooby and El Fuego, a blues band, provided the music. The high hand and $300 cash went to Reb, a San Diego Top Hatter; low hand was scored by Mark Rubio. The 50/50 and $130 and a lot of raffle prizes went to Danny Howe and his wife Christy of Hollister. Nancy Harris of Milpitas won the guitar and, because she didn’t play she gave it to Dennis Osorio, the leader of Los Scooby and El Fuego. Dennis had paid the other band members out of his own pocket and he played for free. He was deeply touched.

Also, Saturday the International Master Bike Builders Association held a bike show on 6th Street at the Corbin Stage. Jeff Stark from IMBBA also made special presentations to Mike Corbin of Corbin and Jim Guiffra of AFT Customs and announced their induction into the IMBBA Hall of Fame. Mike said, “I felt honored because I’m not really a builder. I make motorcycle parts and the other guys are really talented.” An awful lot of his parts wound up on those guys’ builds, though.

“When the music’s over,” there’s always Johnny’s

As usual Johnny’s Bar and Grill was packed and there was a very long line, taking upwards of a half hour or more to get inside. In 1947 Wino Willie and his Boozefighters came to Hollister for the Fourth of July Gypsy Tour Races and one of the guys actually did drive his bike through the bar during the riot. The Boozefighters have returned every July 4th weekend since and this year was no exception. Outside Johnny’s, Victoria Pitcher of Gilroy and her 8-year-old daughter, Mattie, were outside taking pictures in front of Johnny’s wall mural. Mattie was excited because she had seen three pink bikes today and pink was her favorite color.

Slow Races, sponsored by Russ Brown Motorcycle Attorney, were held all weekend at Monte Perlin’s Globe of Death. I got there in time to see Monte’s two riders, Chris Hunt and Mike Downey, challenge each other. The loser had to pay off a $75 bar tab at Johnny’s. Chris lost. By the way, both these guys can literally run the Slow Race backwards on their bikes.

There appeared to be a strong police presence in town and I heard a number of complaints by rally goers about this. I ran into Hollister Police Chief Westrick several times during the weekend and asked him about it. He said, “It’s all illusion. We have exactly one third the amount of police officers we had in 2003. We’re using a roving pattern and it makes it look like more. We try to be where there is likely to be trouble. Our goal is to keep this a safe event. We want everyone to have a good time.” The chief was also pleased with the amount of people that showed up for the event.

On Sunday, I got to see Stan Hill from Folsom, who happens to own another magazine, climb into the Globe of Death with the same riders who had ridden around Erik Estrada and took his turn. The riders ran circles around him and even managed to turn his hat around on his head twice but alas, he managed to come out of the globe unharmed. He’ll continue to compete against us a while longer. Maybe next year I’ll try it.

As far as crowds go Friday was a little lighter than last year but, Saturday was way more packed than Saturday a year ago. There was literally no movement at times on the sidewalk or by bikes in the street. At one point, it looked like one mass mob for four blocks but no one seemed to be making any issues about it. Local television station KSBW estimated this year’s event at 45,000. I suspect it was more. Suffice it to say that 2017 was a bigger rally year than 2016. 

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