PANAMA CITY BEACH, FLA., OCT. 2-6–The old saying goes, “When it rains it pours.” This statement can be literal or figurative, but usually denotes a plethora of troubles. Thunder Beach Rally owner Joe Biggs suffered a heart attack on August 24, 2013—yep, about five-and-a-half weeks before the fall event. Not your run-of-the-mill outpatient stent insertion scenario, but a full-on knock-you-on-your-butt punch in the chest. Get out the paddles, boys. He spent many days in the hospital and more convalescing at home. But there he was less than three weeks out of the hospital against doctors’ wishes on opening night of the Fall 2013 rally, even judging the first preliminary of the Miss Thunder Beach pageant at the Whiskey Saloon and checking out the tunes of Buck Wild. Such dedication to the task at hand can at once be foolhardy and commendable but… the show must go on.
If having a wounded CEO wasn’t enough, the U.S. Weather Service was predicting that a storm in the Gulf of Mexico would become Hurricane Karen. The cruel joke here is that Joe’s wife’s name is Karen. The weather system was upgraded and downgraded several times from a depression to a tropical storm on the verge of hurricane status during the rally. This apparently gave pause to numbers of potential attendees that had prior hotel reservations. Anecdotal information was that cancellations were exceeding bookings as the onshore landing target for the storm shifted from Mobile, Alabama, to the Destin, Florida, region. (Destin is only about 35 miles west of PC Beach.) By Sunday morning the target had shifted toward New Orleans. Go figure. Even I could have predicted the wind and rain would probably hit the Gulf Coast somewhere, sometime. Hell, it’s a big target. How about a bit more precision next time, guys?
Those who braved the dire predictions of impending doom and high water were treated to good weather Wednesday through Saturday morning. We got nothing but the usual Florida showers. It would sprinkle on the east end of the beach and be bone dry on the west end, or vice versa. However, by Friday it was becoming evident that attendance was being influenced by the prognostications. This was not good news for a lot of the vendors who work multiple rallies across the country because, according to them, rain has been a plague on the rally scene around the country this season.
With all of the above working against the 13th Fall Thunder Beach, there were some bright spots. The venerable Miss Newby’s seemed to have steady crowds and their entertainment lineup always rocks the house. Sharkey’s played host to Geneva and her band as they gave the crowds their usual entertaining, high-energy show. The Circus Una high wire act was erected at Frank Brown Park with those lovely ladies traversing the high wire while being propelled by a motorcycle as they performed on a trapeze suspended below.
Once again the Whiskey Saloon was the host of the Kick Start Party on Wednesday night where Buck Wild provided the tunes. Not only is the Whiskey a great place to listen to live music on the outdoor and indoor stages, but it also is a really good place to hang out and contemplate whatever is worth contemplation at the given moment. That’s where you will find the some of the coldest beer and the friendliest bartenders awaiting you. During the rally you will also find the best barbecue anywhere on the beach at the outside smokers. And they will let you take it inside to have with that cold, adult beverage. You can also replenish your liquid supplies at the package store inside the saloon; all at reasonable prices. Additionally, the first round of the Miss Thunder Beach pageant was held there Wednesday as the most beautiful group of contestants to date lined the stage to vie for a place at the finals.
Early Thursday evening not a parking space was to be found at Pier Park as bikes were backed to the curb in every available spot. The bars and restaurants along the avenue were also very busy. Club LaVela featured Jackyl Friday night and a Skynyrd tribute band Saturday. Plus the Harley-Davidson demo truck had all the 2014 models lined up in the LaVela parking lot for those wanting to try out some of the new rides from The Motor Company.
The Boardwalk hosted PC Beach’s inaugural Paint & Body Contest. The concept is simple: Pick a half-dozen or so motorcycles with exceptional paint and have airbrush artists match the paint on a warm, willing and mostly-naked body. It was a hit among those wanting to check out the art. The downside was that it was dark and the unveiling was too drawn out and the restless withdrew to greener pastures or the nearest bar.
Other Miss Thunder Beach preliminaries were scheduled at various locations with the final one on Saturday night, but it was cancelled according to my sources because of the possibility of bad weather. Vendors were allowed to tear down Saturday night if they thought it prudent and the tent rental companies were onsite into the early hours of Sunday morning breaking down tents.
New for Thunder Beach was a concert series put on by PCB Entertainment at the city’s Pier Park property west of the shops. This is the same group that promoted the Gulf Coast Jam the previous week with headliner Toby Keith. The City of Panama City Beach has improved their property over the last few years and PCB Entertainment should be applauded in their efforts to provide live music for the rally of a caliber not previously seen. The newest addition is the amphitheater west of, and behind, the retail strip parking lots. The permanent structure would be the envy of any city and the layout of the grounds is perfect for the blanket and folding-chair concert set.
Unfortunately, the aforementioned weather prognosticators not only deterred travelers, they influenced concert attendees as well. There was some truth to the predictions, such as the shower prior to Friday’s show featuring The Kicks, Badfinger and headliner Grand Funk Railroad. However, if you stuck around, Grand Funk brought back memories of simpler times for the older baby boomers by regaling us with their greatest hits. The insightful promoters had the headliners scheduled early in the evening. Apparently they realized some of us old-timers have a hard time making those 10:00 or 11:00 p.m. start times these days without a nap during the day… or during the concert. Thanks, guys.
The Saturday night concert lineup featuring Floord and John Kay with Steppenwolf and headlined by Cheap Trick was cancelled altogether. Initially, through the grapevine, it was heard the concert would be free, but at showtime the gate was blocked and attendees were turned away. The weather was a factor, but the cancellation was probably also a response to Friday’s lackluster attendance that was most likely exceeded by those staffing the bars and food vendors. The preparation was admirable, the venue was outstanding and the acts were quality. This valiant effort to provide the Thunder Beach bikers and locals a concert lineup worthy of any rally should not go unheralded. Hopefully the promoters and sponsors such as Pepsi and Jim Beam will stick with the event for the rally’s spring offering. A bit more advanced advertising would probably help attendance.
And a big thanks goes to www.staybeachside.com for hosting yours truly. Fortunately, the property they selected for me was about 100 yards west of the Sandpiper, which finally gave me a parking spot within walking distance to catch the always-raucous Mustang Sally at the Sandpiper.
In the end, it was all good—a stellar display spearheaded by a promoter with severe extenuating circumstances that would have most throwing in the beach towel and walking away. That’s not Thunder Beach.