Sweet Home Arkansas - Communities climb on to rev up rally ride

Posted: September 23, 2018 at 1 a.m.

File Photo Dave Kemp of Kansas City, Mo., puts a helmet on Kellan Hale, 4 of Fayetteville during last year's Parade of Power. Tommy Sisemore, executive director of Bikes, Blues & BBQ, says the rally always had a goal of being family friendly.

This is just Tommy Sisemore's third year at the helm of Bikes, Blues & BBQ, but he's an old hand at keeping the motorcycle rally a community occasion. A former Springdale police officer, he's been coordinating security for the annual event since 2006.

"I think it's grown exactly how the forefathers thought it would," he says of the 19-year-old rally. "It was framed as family friendly, and we've done a good job of staying true to those roots."

FAQ

Bikes, Blues & BBQ

No. 19

WHEN — Sept. 26-29

WHERE — Dickson Street, Walton Arts Center Plaza, Washington County Fairgrounds, Baum Stadium, Fayetteville Town Center, all in Fayetteville; Arvest Ballpark in Springdale

COST — Most events are free; VIP info on event website

INFO — bikesbluesandbbq.org

BONUS — See more schedules on Page 40 of this What’s Up!

Motorcycle enthusiasts and local eventgoers look forward to the parade of power, scheduled for 3 p.m. sept. 29 from the Washington County Fairgrounds ...

Although he might wish he had more hours in the day and more hands on the task -- he's one of only two paid rally employees -- Sisemore says most of his job is as smooth as a cruise through the Ozarks.

"We call it 'playing dress-up' around here," he says, laughing. "We don't expect the Hell's Angels to coming riding in to town."

In 2015, Sisemore says, the University of Arkansas undertook a study of the average Bikes, Blues & BBQ patron and found he was 35 to 58 years old with a median income of $85,000. "You sit out at the fairgrounds, and you see a quarter of a million dollar RV roll in pulling a $30,000 trailer hauling a $40,000 bike. Those are not 'bikers.' Those are 'hobbyists.' It's a high-dollar hobby."

Bikes, Blues & BBQ is now the No. 2rally in the nation, Sisemore adds, second only to the Sturgis Motorcycle Rally in South Dakota and surpassing Bike Week in Daytona Beach, Fla. The reason is simple, he believes.

"Once you've ridden the beach once, you can't make it any more fun. We have 12 to 15 rides here that are among the top 100 nationally. There's nowhere else you can get that. Sturgis is beautiful, and people will keep going there. But we're also the world's largest charity motorcycle rally -- and at the end of the day, people want to feel like they're doing something good."

Over the life of the rally, more than $2 million has been donated to local charities, Sisemore says, with more than 40 charities benefiting last year. "Not bad for a little rally that started out to fund Meals on Wheels," he says.

Now, he says, it's up to him and the Bikes, Blues & BBQ volunteers to keep finding new ways to attract both visitors and locals to the rally. As "an old rodeo guy," the idea of a bull riding event appealed to Sisemore, and this year, he's added one to the Thursday evening schedule at the Washington County Fairgrounds. Produced by Amped Up Pro Bull Tour, the competition plans "to buck anywhere from 40 to 50 bulls."

He's also proud that other local organizations have chosen to wrap events around Bikes, Blues & BBQ. The Walmart Arkansas Music Pavilion will present rock legends Lynyrd Skynyrd on Sept. 28; Main Street Rogers will host Bikes on the Bricks with live music on Sept. 28 and a vintage motorcycle show on Sept. 29; and the Arkansas Air and Military Museum will bring in vintage planes.

"Of course, one of my favorite things about the rally is the Parade of Power," Sisemore says. Rolling this year from the Washington County Fairgrounds to Dickson Street at 3 p.m. Sept. 29, "it's not something you see anywhere else," he says. "It's pretty phenomenal."

No job is without challenges, and Sisemore says he's weathered his share, including uproar over vendors selling merchandise perceived as Nazi-related.

"We immediately removed that, and they were not allowed to come back," Sisemore says. Now, he hires an off-duty law enforcement officer to inspect the vendors' merchandise every day, looking for anything "lewd or offensive" and for any trademark infringement. He's adamant about "protecting the image of our rally."

"It's a local event that puts a lot of money into charities and into the tax base," he says, "and we want to make sure there's nothing going on you wouldn't want to see as a resident or a parent."

NAN What's Up on 09/23/2018