LAUGHLIN, NEV., APRIL 27—The Boys are Back in Town—that familiar guitar lick and lyrics from the Thin Lizzy rock anthem continued to play over and over in my mind’s jukebox while I nodded in tune in the saddle of my Deuce heading east on Route 40 toward Laughlin, Nevada. I was anticipating the scene at Harrah’s and especially the goings-on at the Bullhead City Bike Fest, while thanking my lucky stars that Tony and Kelly of Morro’s American Iron in Corona, California, had managed to finish rebuilding my motor in time for my early afternoon departure.
For months preceding the Laughlin River Run, the Southern California Harley-Davidson Dealership Association, under the leadership of Mark Ruffalo, owner of California Harley-Davidson in Harbor City, California, had initiated an advertising campaign of mammoth proportion in an attempt to encourage riders to take advantage of the Harrah’s hotel package they were offering and come party with the SoCal Harley-Davidson crew across the river in Bullhead City. The SoCal dealers teamed up with Bullhead City officials and representatives from the Chamber of Commerce to turn the city’s community center and park into suitable grounds for the Bullhead City Bike Fest. They produced an attraction-laden agenda that included Harley-Davidson demo rides, a vendor area, beer garden and food fair, several performances by the Victor McLaglen Motor Corps Drill Team, a battle of the bands, multiple poker runs, belly dancers, tattoo artists, the River Cruisers Car Show and, to top off the experience, everyone who attended was issued a raffle ticket for the “Win a Harley-Davidson 883 Raffle” presented by the Bullhead City Chamber of Commerce. That sounds like a lineup you might expect to encounter at a major event and it’s a great testament to the degree of commitment put forth towards the Bullhead City Bike Fest by the SoCal Dealers Association and Bullhead City officials.
The party got started Thursday evening with a reception for those who purchased room packages at Harrah’s. The Head Bangers Ball, featuring side projects from various band members from Alice Cooper, Ratt, Snake Pit and a few other groups, brought bands to the Harrah’s Amphitheater stage for some serious guitar-driven metal therapy. That same evening, attendees also got the chance to watch the Jet-Girl Bikini Contest at the amphitheater. Is your head spinning yet? Thanks to the staff at Harrah’s for all the TLC—especially the traffic manager who shuns the limelight, so I won’t mention Richard by name. Oops.
For me the jewel of the whole shebang took place on Friday night. Those who had purchased the Harrah’s four-day package offered by
participating SoCal Dealers were invited to take the dedicated water taxi from Harrah’s across the Colorado River to the Bike Fest for an Italian-style buffet dinner, along with a concert and dance party in the function hall located on the bottom floor of the Bullhead City Community Center. Upon arrival I checked in with Mark Ruffalo and was rewarded with a handshake and a bear hug. Next I saw Scott Kellerman, co-owner of Antelope Valley H-D, with his wife Laurie, talking to Richard Lillibridge, owner of Biggs H-D in San Marcos, California. I found a seat at motorcycle attorney/philanthropist Steve Schapiro’s table, where I joined legendary wayfarer “Panhead” Billy Burrows and famous motorcycle racer “Rodeo” Ray Tewksbury. I looked over towards the next table and saw Rich Quaid, past president of the SoCal Dealers Association and co-owner of Quaid H-D locations in Loma Linda and Temecula, California. During our little sessions of give and take over the years, Rich generally gets one up on me. That evening proved to be no exception.
Shortly after my arrival Mark Ruffalo squired me around the hall introducing me to Bullhead City officials as if they were celebrities. In appreciation for Mark’s enthusiastic introductions, the city officials responded with compliments for Mr. Ruffalo. I found myself smack dab in the middle of a love fest. The sense of common purpose and esprit-de-corps exhibited by dealers and city officials alike was palpable.
A familiar rumbling in my stomach reminded me that I had saved an appetite for the buffet. With my camera slung over my left shoulder, my flash gun hanging off my belt on my right hip and my dinner plate balanced in my left hand, I strolled on over to the bar to get a beer. It turns out our magnanimous hosts had favored us with an open bar—did I neglect to mention that pretty much everyone in the standing-room-only crowd at the venue seemed to be having a great time?
John Paliwoda, executive director of the SoCal Dealers Association, had booked the band The Grind, a popular group that hails from Riverside, California. Their repertoire includes classic rock, soul and contemporary songs that appeal perfectly to the biker age demographic. It wasn’t long after folks finished their dinner before “Panhead” Billy and an attractive lady from his table got up and started dancing to a particularly infectious selection. That’s all it took to turn that dinner party and concert into a serious shindig. I must admit, I couldn’t help myself; I put down my camera and commenced to gyrate with a group of ladies right there in thick of the jamboree.
After the party had wound down to the point where there were less than a few dozen of us left, I boarded the water taxi for the ride back to Harrah’s with several unsuspecting partygoers. Who knew the pilot would turn out to be such a cowboy? Within a few heartbeats into the excursion, our guy had jammed the throttle wide open. The prow of the boat popped up and then leveled off as the boat began to plane as well as its design would allow. One of the lady passengers grabbed hold of her seat, somewhat shocked by the unexpected display of speed. Most of us were enjoying the ride, while others seemed to be a bit shaken.
On Saturday I spent several hours at the Bike Fest—or the Harley-Davidson Community Park, as the facility had been renamed for the extravaganza. It’s always great to watch the Victor McLaglen Motor Corps Drill Team do their thing, but I think I’m almost as entertained by the reactions of first-time spectators. After the performance, all the corps members rode around the corral near the edge of the fence so that onlookers could slap them five as they slowly cruised by. It’s like they were star athletes jogging down the runway to the locker room after a winning game.
The Harley-Davidson demo truck is every bit a V-twin rally icon, and sometimes I wonder if there’s any data to indicate how many people got their first ride on a Harley from the demo trucks set up at various rallies. Saturday afternoon in Bullhead City with clear, blue skies, moderate winds and temps in the low 80s couldn’t have provided a more inviting setting for that initial experience. Jim Bryner, a H.O.G. road captain from Mother Road H-D in Kingman, along with several of his colleagues, took on the responsibility to squire groups of test riders over the test-ride course. He had one such group lined up for some words of instruction before heading out when I asked him if it would be OK to pose a question to the gathering. When he noticed my THUNDER PRESS credentials, he graciously obliged me. I had to know if my theory about first time Harley riders had any merit. Sure enough, of the 10 people in the group, three virgin hands went up. It’s a small sample, but maybe some of my theories aren’t as crazy as everybody thinks. Thanks to Chuck Cherry, the demo truck event coordinator, for accommodating my lens.
Plenty of vendors were on hand located on the north side of the inflated H-D logo arch of the park including biker attorneys Steve Schapiro of Schapiro and Leventhal, and The Law Tigers. Steve was heavily promoting Rip’s BAD Ride to be held on July 1 at the new location of Irvine Regional Park—circle the date.
A number of aspects make the Bullhead City Community Park perfect for a rally. I mentioned the indoor banquet hall in the community center building, but there’s also ample parking that can serve multiple purposes, and the grassy park section where the classic car show was held had a charm of its own. I haven’t talked about the shaded patio that’s large enough to accommodate a few hundred people. It features a stage where the battle of the bands took place, and the design of the structure provides maximum shade while allowing 10-foot-high open sides for easy access and maximum cross breezes. In 80-degree temperatures I was comfortable in the deep shade offered by the structure. I guess it should come as no surprise that they got the shaded area right in the desert of Arizona.
The second annual Bullhead City Bike Fest is scheduled to take place April 25–28, 2013, so mark your calendars and plan ahead.