So this friend of mine, Bob, and I worked at Opryland theme park as caricaturists more years ago than seems possible. And we went to college together. Being best buddies and roommates and seeing all the dumb things each other did in those years where you can do supremely stupid things and still consider it perfectly normal behavior, we spent a lot of time together. Now, though, marriages, moves, kids… you lose track. You know how it is.
So Bob lives a couple hundred miles away now, and aside from his day job that is completely cool, he also plays in a band. If you’re lucky, you have similar friends. More specifically, if you’re lucky you get to go see them perform. My wife and I always figured we’d work out a way to drive one weekend, drop the kids off at my parents’ house overnight, and make a big deal out of seeing Bob and the band perform. Every trip that direction seemed to be a day trip, or when we knew Bob was playing was also when our oldest had an orchestra performance, or our youngest had cub scout campouts I was in charge of. You know how it is.
FInally, though, Bob got in touch and said “It’s gonna be here and at this time, and you’ve got plenty of warning. Get somebody to watch the kids and be there, for heaven’s sake.” Or something like that. I take the liberty of paraphrasing, seeing as how he’d been trying to get us there for five years and all. There may have been some name-calling on his part. Perfectly justifiable. You know how it is.
The specifics were this: The Boogie Hollar Bikerally (Formerly the Hawg Holler Bike Rally. I don’t know why there are the two spellings, ‘holler’ and ‘hollar’, but there are. You keep ‘em straight now… ’cause nobody else is.) in Atwood TN. Yow. The band, Phoenix Rising, took the stage at 9:00 pm for an hour and again at 11:00.
My wife and I were going to go together so she could take lots of photos. She’s in the camera club here and there would doubtless be some cool stuff to shoot, and then to scare hell out of the older members of the club with.
Then she had to back out on account of early Saturday morning schedule.
Poo. Well, I didn’t have to be anywhere early on Saturday, so I was stickin’ with the plan. I made a last minute attempt to interest any mutual friends of Bob and some friends who simply like motorbikes and raucous rock & roll to go with me. I was in a foot brace and stumping around like Robocop before he had his left side finished up, and aside from having someone with a working driving foot along, a little company is never a bad thing. No go. Too short notice. Damn.
Now, the plan was to get there as early as possible. Soak in the atmosphere without getting my butt kicked off for being at a biker rally while not actually being a biker, possibly purchase something cool. Skull rings, leather underpants, a helmet that proclaimed disdain for the police in large red letters… I really had no idea what might be available, and then, when it would be well past my bedtime (as their first set kicked off around what I usually think of as my bedtime) wander thirty-odd miles southward to where my parents live, spend the night there, and get up the next morning to drive home.
I was, it is fair to say, dipping a toe in. Timidly.
But I was gonna get to see Bob and Phoenix Rising play, at that was well worth a toe.
I have three vehicles from which to choose, when driving these days. The Suburban, which is my usual road trip vehicle, has roof racks for boats and bicycles. It’s also covered with stickers that say things like ‘Unicycle’ and ‘Save Our Rivers’ and ‘Hubris’ and ‘Teva’ and that kind of stuff. Maybe not the best choice this time, aside from being a monstrous gas-guzzler. I have an old Jeep that currently doesn’t have the top or doors on it. It’s not good for interstate driving any more as its top speed is right at the speed limit and driving like that can get you run over. Fifty-five degree overnight temperatures sound bad while driving in an open shell of a car, too. The third option is a small, nondescript pickup truck that my oldest son is learning to drive in. Ah. Perfect. No biker, however unruly and drunk, could take offense at a small, brown, American-made pickup truck. There you go.
And there I went. Thank heaven for GPS apps on phones now, or I’d have burned a LOT of time finding this place. Siri’s voice actually got me only as far as a sign saying that the Rally was not far from here, and to turn left to go find the next sign. I suspect that such directions are perfectly proper in Atwood TN. You’ll see why later. Atwood, I should point out now, seemed to be a lot of farms strung out along the roads I was using. I never saw a town proper. I found my way directly from where Siri said I should find it to where the Rally actually was, and given my ability to lose myself with even simple directions, I assume that means that Boogie Hollar is easily found once you get into the Atwood area.
Bob was kind enough to save me the $40 entry fee by putting me on the band’s guest list. The nice lady checked me in, gave me a wrist band, told me the best places to try and park and the place that I should never try to park and in I went.
While getting directions and information online earlier in the day, I had discovered that for a few dollars more, you could arrive at the biker rally on Monday. This was Friday, and I had no idea how long some of these folks had been there, but lots of people looked very much at home. They called to mind the way my friends looked when we used to do long kayaking/camping weekends up ’round the mountains.
If you think that I’m now going to surprise you by saying that not everyone was wearing blue jeans, black T-shirts, black leather vests and chaps and hats and all, then let me double surprise you or not surprise you AT ALL by saying that everyone was dressed exactly like that. If you think I will now reveal that these were not Hell’s Angels, but a crowd of doctors and lawyers who bought Harleys for their weekends, I’m going to confuse you. Or, more specifically, tell you that I was confused. There weren’t Hell’s Angels or any of the biker thug-types that you see on exposé TV on the SPIKE channel. But there were not a lot of overtly doctorish or lawyerish folk running around either. There were a few more colorful Harley jackets with orange leather mixed in with the black, and a few pairs of boots and jeans that didn’t look as well mulched-down as others did. Bottom line- Friday night at the biker rally has an easy mix of folks. ‘Course I didn’t stay past midnight, so things might’ve gotten more hotted up and confrontational, but it didn’t look like happening when I got there. I parked on the far side of a LOT of trucks, trailers, RVs and campers and stumped to the festival area itself.
The festival area’s centerpiece was the stage. Nice stage, and the sort of thing, I suppose, you could keep in a back field of your largish property in case you ever feel like hosting a biker rally or similar event. It was enclosed on three sides, so blowing rain and stuff wouldn’t come from your left or right or back, but blow straight in your face, I guess. But there was also a marquee style roof jutting out in front, so rain and stuff couldn’t blow straight in on the stage and even in rain or blistering sun, there’s cover for those who wish to dance. Nice. There were stairs up the back of the stage, for the band and their help. And there were stairs on one side of the front of the stage… like auditorium stages. And a stripper pole on the jut-out at the front of the stage. Not so much like an auditorium stage, then. At the back of the marquee area was the sound booth, which, as I think back, I can’t recall whether it was a permanent structure or a temp. I wasn’t interested in the mixers or the sound guys, I guess. The rest of the area was a sort of semi-circle spreading out from the stage. There were the ‘other’ stripper poles on their own little round stages, and the cage stage trailer thingy that baffled me at first. Ranged outside all this were lots of really nice motorbikes. Some lean and mean, some with hidden neon, some with flashy paint. Bob and I both used to airbrush when that was a more common thing. We speculated a little about one of the paint jobs. Then there were bleacher seats way out. Obviously not for viewing the stage. I assume that on Saturday, they were there for watching the biker fun. Porta Potties, open field, vendors… all splayed out in larger and larger arcs from the stage. Beyond that were the camps and campers.
It only took a bit of wandering to spot Buddy Bob. He’s like 6’2″ or something, and that helps. Plus, his hair’s sorta silver. Not silver like TV anchorman silver, but silver like “You look after your hair, ’cause you have Stage Presence, Mr. Bass Player Dude.” silver. I don’t have any hair left particularly, and didn’t look after it when I did, so props to Bob on the cool hair and matching chin whiskers.
You can tell that it was a good mix of folks in the crowd because the first thing that happened was I was offered a drink of moonshine. Out of a mason jar. Yeah, man. Rural Tennessee. Biker rally. Awesome. The butterscotch flavoring was a bit of a surprise. The moonshine at our local liquor store has three different flavors. I’ve never checked to see if any of them are butterscotch. I will next time.
Bob and I caught up a bit, had a beer together and looked around the vendors while the sun dropped behind the trees ( I beat the dark only by a bit). The vendors sold what you’d probably expect. There were lots of silver and black things. Skull rings, belt buckles, saddlebags, chaps, Tshirts, hats, buffs, helmets, chain mail-and-bullet geegaws (very cool stuff made by the guy in the booth, link by link, and a little too pricey for cartoonists who would barely ever get the opportunity to wear them. I have a chain mail hackey sack, and hardly use it at all.)
The previous band SkipperGrace left the stage (I’m unclear if that’s the whole band’s name or just the name of the athletic pixie who sang) and it was time for Bob to go set up with the others.
Then I passed a nice few minutes getting some food and re-visiting the booths that interested me the most. The Tshirt booth interested me. They had black hoodies with the logo screen printed on them. That fifty-five degrees was rapidly approaching, so I ponied up the twenty five bucks for a souvenir hoodie.
There was a beer tent, too. They had as many types of American beer as you’d be wise to shake a stick at. Bud, Bud light, Miller, Miller lite, you name it… all kinds. Then, as I was getting my pulled-pork sandwich with hot sauce, they announced that the stage was ready for the ‘Pretty Panty” contest. People had been donating money for it, and the girls who would, they said, come up on stage and show off their undergarments for minute and a half musical interludes would vie for the money as first prize. Showing one’s undergarments on stages at biker rallies warrants no second or third prizes. As I had my food in my hand, and it was all paid for, I moseyed over to see what this was all about. My curiosity was, you could say, piqued.
There are a couple of things about the ‘Pretty Panty’ competition. One, panties were not entirely necessary. I assume it’d be rude to exclude anyone who didn’t have any to show. And two, professional panty-showers were not excluded. This is merely an assumption, but I’ve been to old-school bachelor parties, and amateurs who’ve decided on the spur of the moment to run up on stage and compete for $520 by stripping off all their clothes and swinging themselves bodily on a stripper pole are not typically that adept, nor do they remember to bow and wiggle when the 90 seconds of music ends.
And three, their decibel meter was rigged, ’cause the girl I yelled for at the end didn’t win, and she was obviously getting more cheers than anyone else. The young lady who got the money was, I suspect, related to someone in charge (which is just wrong in so many ways) or paying a kickback to the organizers of the competition, which is perfectly American and proper.
I try to keep things family friendly here at Hubris, and this photo is certainly skirting into the ‘not safe for children’ area, but on the other hand, it’s a lousy photo. iPhone, more stage lights than an ELO concert, and a lack of skill by the photographer make it merely suggestive rather than overtly dirty. Did I mention that the Rally was not open to anyone under 21?
Then, after the frankly unfair and biased debauch of the Pretty Panty competition, it was time for Phoenix Rising to take the stage.
They’re really good.
Amy, their lead singer, had been on stage for a song with SkipperGrace, and Bob had been pointing out technical stuff I would have missed- I’m not a musician, and though I’ve been told I do well enough speaking on stage, I don’t have to coordinate with others at the same time. I’ve always been amazed that bands can manage that.
Phoenix Rising manages very well. Amy is a whirl of energy, and her voice has that little bit of a ragged edge that makes raucous rock & roll work. I’m sure that when Janis Joplin was around, there were lots of terms for it. The guitarist was definitely on, and could come to center stage to entertain, the drummer never faltered in any overt way. Everyone seemed to know what was supposed to happen and it all happened on cue. I say this only because I’ve seen garage bands with rotten sound make a hash out of their stage time, and this wasn’t it.
Phoenix Rising played all cover songs, but for one original tune, for their first set, if I remember right. I bought their EP on iTunes (The Good Life) a year or two ago, and had hoped to hear one of those tunes, but you gotta keep the crowd dancing, and old favorites are the best way to do that, I suppose.
So. I’m no expert, but Phoenix Rising is tight knit, confident, entertaining, looks and sounds damned good on stage. You wouldn’t necessarily guess they have day jobs. You could picture them making a living playing gigs 45 weekends a year, working toward the next record and living the dreams of and wearinesses of musicians.
The bikers liked them, too. That’s very important. We all remember seeing The Blues Brothers movie. This stage had no wire to keep off the beer bottles.
And that big stagey, cagey, trailery thing I mentioned before? Had a petite little stripper in it, of course. She had lots of lucre tucked into her G-string pretty quickly over there. She didn’t look dangerous, so I assume the cage was to keep the bikers off her, and not her off the bikers.
Sadly, My parents like to go to bed before the little numbers appear on the clock and since I was sleeping in their house that night I had to get moving. So I hung out and heard maybe the first song of the band’s next set, then stumped back to the truck, and trusted my iPhone and Siri’s voice to get me to Jackson TN from Atwood. I suppose I could have just looked around and tried to follow the roads to the lights on the horizon. Atwood is darn dark.
The following morning, I heard a story of Atwood from my father. The story was fifty years old or more, and indicated that “there wasn’t much in Atwood”. But the description matched.
On my way out of Jackson to go back home, I stopped at a convenience store, where the young lady working the counter saw my sweatshirt and said, “I’m from Atwood.” and “There’s nothing there.” I told her there’s a bike rally there this weekend, and that was pretty cool.
And it was.
Next year, assuming, of course, that Bob and Phoenix Rising are playing there again, I’m going back. I’ve dipped a toe and done the reconnaissance. Next year, I’m taking friends and fans of raucous rock & roll, and motorbikes, and I’m gonna camp in the back of that pickup truck. I figure Saturday was probably worth seeing, along with Bob’s second set.