15th annual Gibtown Bike Fest

By SunDancer

The oddest rally on earth

Gibsonton, Fla., Jan. 12–14—Although the grey clouds looked less than promising, the weatherman had promised those clouds would clear and the sun would break through but the mercury wasn’t going to gain much ground. Undaunted by the forecast we headed south to check out the day’s events at the 15th annual Gibtown Bike Fest, held in Gibsonton, about two hours south of O-town. It’s a small rally compared to Daytona or Leesburg but usually enjoyable nonetheless.

We arrived about noon and headed toward the International Independent Showmen’s Association main event building where many had already gathered to get their party attitudes on. Behind the main building is another large building where many of the vendors are set up and then behind that, a large open area where food vendors and a large stage were set up.

As I strolled out about the grounds it seemed there were less vendors than in past years and definitely less people. I’m sure the grey skies and chilly wind wasn’t very encouraging to some. I was pleasantly surprised when we stopped for a beverage and were charged only $4 for a beer and $5 for a top-shelf mixed drink. Some of the larger rallies could take note of this for sure.

Then we headed toward the stage where the bands would be playing. I was really hoping to catch the performance of a band I’d seen there before, the Caribbean Cowboys. Unfortunately they weren’t listed on the program. I was a little disappointed since I had really enjoyed their performances during the past couple visits.

As we rounded the end of the stage and I heard an announcer inviting everyone to step up and see 15 of the oddest sites in America, I was reminded of the circus-type attractions that were here last year. Certainly these are things you won’t normally see at another rally, like a two-headed calf or a human electrode. I suspect that these added attractions are because many of the circus and carnie people escape the winters around the country and spend the time in southwest Florida. Some folks might find it a plus to have the chance to view a diversion from the normal band performances or bike show but I find it rather odd.

Nonetheless as we heard a ringmaster announcing Johnny Rocket’s Cycle Circus we decided to check it out. The ringmaster spoke in rhymes as he announced the BMX performers and soon they were flipping their bikes over ramps and doing somersaults in the air. Next up was Johnny Rocket himself riding around the top of a “cycle tron”—a large platform rising 30 feet in the air with a circular track and a large arm extending off to one side with a trapeze suspended from it. Mr. Rocket rode a small motorcycle around the top of the unit while an attractive young lady performed maneuvers from the trapeze, first hanging by her neck, then one foot and so on.

It seems that the Cycle Circus boasts seven generations of performers offering various stunts. Next on the agenda was the rider performing inside the giant cage called the “wall of death” that most of us have seen this at many rallies over the years.

I checked the program and decided to catch the performance of a band called Come Back Alice. The name alone caught my attention, and I was pleasantly surprised to see a gal playing an electric fiddle and with a pretty good band backing her up. We watched the first set of their performance then headed over to check out the entries in the bike show. In past years there’ve been some unique bikes worthy of some attention so I wanted to see what the offerings were this year. I was surprised to see only about 10 or 12 bikes entered in the show. But there were a few nice ones; an old Servi-Car, one old-school extended trike and the others rather average.

I headed back inside the vendor building to whet my shopping appetite and found some interesting goodies at a little place called Jennifer’s Web. She had some very cool ladies wear and I couldn’t help but take home at least one souvenir of the day. We wandered on through the building, stopping here and there, and then headed back over to the stage to catch another band with an interesting name, Jericho Turnpike. As we entered the tent, they had just started their set with a nice bluesy tune and we decided to hang out to listen to some more.

Soon the weather began to go downhill with misty rain and temperatures heading south. The wind showed up as well and sent some folks heading for their bikes or four wheels. Others went inside the main building where there was food and adult refreshments. We decided to do the same and as we approached the building we caught the sounds of another band, the Bush Hog Band. They were probably the best band of the day, a little older group of guys but with a young drummer. They played some older rock and some old and new country and soon had several people on the dance floor. Of course, maybe they were just trying to stay warm at this point but it appeared they were having fun.

Maybe it was this band and maybe the nasty weather but it seemed more and more people were coming in. Of course the bar in the corner and the one up front in the main building were quite busy as well.

By about 6:00 p.m., the local folks started showing up in their vehicles with children and strollers in tow. I assume they were just getting off work and wanted to have a little Saturday night fun. As for us, we enjoyed a few more tunes by the Bush Hog Band and then decided to head home. This meant we would have to miss the Kentucky Headhunters at 9:00 that night but a person has to do what they have to do. My greatest regret was that missed seeing the guy get shot out of a cannon but I’m guessing I can catch his performance next year. Just kidding. Really. 

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