Party on the Panhandle
Panama City Beach, Fla., May 2–6—It had been several years since I’d been Panama City’s Thunder Beach Spring Rally and I wasn’t prepared for all the growth that had taken place in that area. The Panhandle has always been one of my favorite places in Florida with its beautiful beaches and scenic views of the Gulf of Mexico and evidently other people have made the same decision.
Thursday morning of the rally, we decided to head down to Front Beach Road where most of the popular watering holes are located. We rode around the area for a little while to familiarize ourselves with the places shown on the event brochure and met THUNDER PRESS contributor Walt Lumpkin at Miss Newby’s. This was one of the locations that hadn’t changed over the years except to expand and add a little strip shopping center along the back perimeter. And there are some sister locations now as well in other areas: Newby’s and Newby’s Too. This has always been a popular stop during the rallies and it continues to be.
Walt shared with us a lot of good places to visit, including Buster’s Bait Shop, so we headed there shortly after our goodbyes. He was right; Buster’s was a good stop. There were several bikes and friendly folks and with $2 long necks I was delighted.
Our campground was only a couple miles from the Lucky 13 venue and we had passed it earlier in the day, so that was our first stop on Thursday night. When we arrived the parking lot was full behind the venue as well as along Alf Coleman Road. The band was pretty good and we enjoyed their performance after browsing the vendors that were there.
The first band packed up and then a young man walked out in front of the stage and while the song “Proud to be an American” played he walked around waving the American flag. This action was well received by the audience and soon everyone was standing and singing. After the song, he called up another young man who had been in the military, having served several tours in Iraq and Afghanistan, and he was honored with the “Star Spangled Banner” playing in the background.
From this heartwarming experience we decided to head down to the Salty Goat, a place that looked interesting when we’d seen earlier. We weren’t disappointed here either with a good band, lots of bikes and riders and good prices on the food and refreshments. We liked the designs on the shirts so we splurged and bought a couple.
Friday morning was another day of exploration as we headed out to Frank Brown Park, the actual location of the Thunder Beach rally. As we rode there it was obvious that vendors were set up in almost every business parking lot big enough to accommodate them.
Frank Brown Park is a large area that’s well suited for this type of event and it’s also the location where top entertainment performed each night. I decided to look for some new speakers for my ride and of course this resulted in an expensive visit to the park. Nonetheless, we wandered through the rows of vendors and watched a couple bands before taking in the high-wire aerial show overhead.
We decided to skip the fast food at the park and head to a place known as Dat Cajun Place back down on Front Beach Road. There were several bikes in the parking lot but the wait was minimal and the food was well worth it. From there we headed to another place that had looked inviting—Hammerhead Fred’s. We arrived just as the band, Buck Wild, was starting and they were right on target with some good ’80s rock that brought folks up to the dance floor.
We wrapped up our day back at the Salty Goat and then headed home. Unfortunately, on the way back, Bob started having problems with his headlight so that became a priority for Saturday morning. After a few cups of coffee we headed out to get the headlight issue taken care of and stopped at the Harley dealership where more vendors were set up to tempt us with goodies. The service department was swamped so instead we headed down to the Boneyard. Several bikes there but we seemed to be between times for the performance of Mustang Sally. So we decided to ride down to Pier Park at the west end of Front Beach Road where a bike show was scheduled for the afternoon.
Pier Park is another area that has sprung up since I was there years ago. It’s a shopping Mecca very much designed with the tourist in mind with a few cafés, souvenir shops and a couple bars, one of the most popular being Tootsie’s Orchid Lounge.
I kept reminding myself that we needed to get back to Frank Brown Park by about dinner time to catch the crowning of the Miss Thunder Beach competition. Unlike some other rallies that host beauty contests, this one is spread over three days with a few young ladies being eliminated at each show and the final competition on Saturday evening to wrap up the rally. The initial registration boasted about 30 young ladies but the finalists for Saturday night were only 12. I also found it interesting that these gals come from a variety of backgrounds. Some are budding models, some local girls and so on. They are not all professional models or members of a beauty team that travels the country for these events.
At lunchtime we headed to Sharkey’s for a bite to eat. Their parking lot was packed as well with vendors and rally goers but my hunger alarms won and we were quickly seated with a perfect view of the beach. The warm ocean breeze was just wonderful and with the scenery in the background, we could have easily made a commercial.
After a nice break and a delicious lunch we were off again heading eastward to Hammerhead Fred’s where there was a competition for gals over 35. I thought this was a great idea but unfortunately there were only five ladies who chose to compete in this show. We hung out for a little while just to enjoy the afternoon and rest up for the final night of the event back at Frank Brown Park.
We stopped by our RV before heading back to the park where the Miss Thunder Beach competition was only the appetizer for the evening. I checked in at the media area hoping to have the opportunity to meet some of the contestants prior to the show but some of them were still working the beer tents and other bars in the park, one of the requirements of the contestants.
The competition went off as scheduled and of course all the gals looked great but in my opinion the best was yet to come. Geneva was next to take the stage but not before Panama City Harley-Davidson gave away a new bike. Gary Harrelson had just purchased another bike a few days earlier but he was still a happy man when his name was called and he and his wife made their way to the stage to claim their bike.
Geneva took the stage right after and she proudly stated this was the 20th year that her band had performed at a Thunder Beach rally. Her band is very good and livened up the night with a great performance.
The evening wrapped up with Lita Ford bringing her talent, band and energy to the stage. She and her lead guitarist put on a phenomenal show. Their performance was the perfect ending to a great weekend. And just let me say, I will be going back to Thunder Beach and it won’t take me another 12 years!