Thunder Beach Fall Rally

By Walt Lumpkin

Music makes money for NW Florida

PENSACOLA BEACH, FLA., NOV. 7–11—Yep; you read the dateline correctly. The 18th annual Thunder Beach Fall Rally would have been held in Panama City Beach the weekend following Daytona’s Biketoberfest but Hurricane Michael destroyed those plans as well as hundreds of homes and lives in the process. The beach city itself was on the western edge of the October 10 storm and didn’t sustain a lot of damage compared to Panama City itself and cities to the east. However, crossing the Hathaway Bridge into the city revealed major damage so in deference to the totality of the devastation the beach leaders decided to suspend all activities until after Thanksgiving at the earliest.

The council held a 9:00 a.m. meeting on October 18 and made their decision. Promoter Joe Biggs and his GM Chris Anderson left the meeting struggling with a difficult decision: Cancel the fall gathering altogether or relocate it for a one-off event? Fortunately, the PCBeach Tourism Development Council offered to help by reaching out to other tourism agencies along the western Gulf Coast. Visit Pensacola in particular was most welcoming and offered their total support. With only three weeks until the latest possible date in November they felt feasible, they shifted gears and that very afternoon Joe and Chris were heading to Pensacola to get a lay of the land, meet with local leaders, assess the available facilities and start making calls to vendors. This was a daunting task even for a team that has produced 20 spring rallies and 17 previous fall rallies.

In the vendor business schedules are usually made early in the year and any schedule changes mean a disruption that may have ramifications beyond a simple time shift but a good double handful decided to take a chance on Pensacola Beach. The short notice and the crazy weather that saw 80 degrees on Wednesday, lows in the high 40s and highs in the mid 60s with sustained northerly winds of 25 mph on Thursday and Friday didn’t help riders or vendors enjoy their experience on the beach. Yet Sunday was typical beautiful Florida weather. It was a roller coaster ride.

Some of the vendors included Frank and Teresa who are fairly new to the bike rally circuit but have secured a distribution deal with Purple Slice cleaning products and have taken to the road. They are enjoying their semi-retirement traveling the country, meeting people and introducing them to the products. Evan Wood from Cincinnati was attending his first Thunder Beach with his Get Loaded food trailer offering up some coastal delicacies such as crab cake sandwiches and crab fritters with several great sauces to enhance the dining experience.

From the outset it was decided that the concerts would be fundraisers with 100 percent of the gate going to United Way of NW Florida. Again, short notice in the world of entertainment is very difficult to overcome but with promoters using contacts established over past 20 years and working the phones, Thunder Beach participants were able to enjoy Savoy Brown with founding member Kim Simmonds and Foghat on Friday. Jesse James Dupree and the guys from Jackyl were gracious enough to travel down from Atlanta and provide the Saturday night entertainment and were available for handshakes and photos after the show. Note to fans: Learn to use your phone camera; there is a line behind you. Pensacola guitarist Tyler Livingston provided the opening act. Prices for the concerts were more than reasonable at $15 per night or $25 for the weekend.

The knockout music talent for the weekend came from the White Tie Rock Ensemble. This local group is made up of 11 phenomenal musicians including the Tied Up Quartet consisting of four young ladies on violin, viola and cello providing the full sound of a symphony as the group recreates the sounds of Pink Floyd, Tom Petty and the Allman Brothers among others complete with a multimedia presentation playing behind them. They do full sets of one band at a time and there are times you could close your eyes and you would think Duane Allman had arisen from the grave. You will be hearing more from these guys. They have been invited to Thunder Beach Spring Rally in 2019.

Despite the unfavorable conditions and short notice I believe those who attended enjoyed their time on Pensacola Beach. I overheard a number of them say they had never been to Pensacola but would return even with no motorcycle event. As a part-time resident, I say welcome to our little piece of paradise and I’m glad you made it out of town safely. Monday we had tornadoes and floods. Welcome to Florida.

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