Pro’s and Con’s No Doubt
NWA is and is not a lot of things. We are a community that likes to celebrate things, we love welcoming company to our table and we love embracing different cultures. What we are NOT is a community lacking in opinions and very little polarizes us quite like the annual Bikes, Blues and BBQ rally each fall.
There is so much that can be said about BBBBQ. Some love it, some hate it and others just prefer to clear out until it’s over. But what you can’t do is ignore it. The rumble seems to start earlier every year as more people opt to get here early and spend the entire week with us. As the days roll on towards the official start date it’s hard to go a spare minute without the sound as a forced film score to your life. Traffic starts to get thick and parking downtown pushes further and further out as the streets get blocked for vendors. Just as some residents opt to pack up and leave town, many local businesses follow suit. I, for one, subconsciously associate the rumble with the beginning of fall.
BBBBQ Stats and Concerns
For anyone unfamiliar, BBBBQ started in 2000 with around 300 bikes and has grown to an event 400,000 strong and prides it’s self in being the “Largest Charity Rally” in existence by writing checks to local charities such as Arkansas Children’s NW, Boy and Girls Club and several others. In 2016 donations totaled $230,475.76. Any local 501 (c) 3 can apply to be a recipient by applying on the festival’s website.
According to a study by the Walton College of Business in 2014 attendees spent an average of $402.00 each resulting in $80 million in revenue and around $5 million in tax dollars. Siting restaurants, hotels, retail and fuel as the big winners. I can’t help but wonder with food and retail vendors rolling in from all over the country as well as hotel and convenience store chains not having local ownership, how many of these dollars actually stay in the community. But $5 million in tax revenue and $200,000 to local charities is nothing to sneeze at.
There have also been numerous complaints that the demographic that the rally attracts is not consistent to the community’s reputation and moral code of non-discrimination and sustainability. Rally officials attempted to reconcile this by banning the SALE of confederate flag merchandise by BBBBQ vendors. Though I feel that may have made things worse when community members photographed several confederate clad paraphernalia booths which seemed to always be paired with other hate group symbols (“the dixie flag isn’t a symbol of racism”, my foot). I am unaware of any repercussions for these booths but the city said that they were aware and “working on the problem” when locals called in complaints.
Into The Din
Armed with all of this knowledge, I decided to wander downtown to observe as much as I could as objectively as possible. I was somewhat surprised by what I found.
First of all this year was unseasonably warm (hot even). Luckily I had the presence of mind to slather down with some SPF 50 before I left the house but that was only going to help so much. After walking downtown from our house I needed something cold to drink and some shade to stand under. Drinks were not hard to find but shade was a problem so we walked the street looking for a street front table at a bar to make our home for the day. As luck would have it we ended up with a beautiful solution at Brewski’s. We settled in and reveled in the fact that I could savor our time and observations as much as I wanted in our spot.
It’s easy to feel overwhelmed by the rumble of bikes, people and helicopters combined with the smells of smoked meat, cigars and exhaust. Once you add in the claustrophobic feeling of so many people in one place it’s hard to focus on anything in particular. But if you do manage to find your “Zen” place you might notice how friendly everyone is being to each other or how many grandpas are here with their grand kids having the best day ever. I was happy to notice so many people with disabilities making their way through the crowd some with their own set of specialized wheels. There were also representations of cultures from all around the world.
Are All Bikers Created Equal?
I think that there is a vast difference between “Biker culture” and “Red neck culture” both of which were in abundance and not mutually exclusive. Bikers fully embrace bike life and are here to celebrate said way of life. Bike culture seems to know no race, age, size or type. There were people of various ethnicities, religious groups, sizes, shapes and colors not to mention men and women well passed my grandparent’s age rocking leather and a big bike. Red neck culture, however, takes bike culture but picks and chooses which aspects it keeps then displays it’s ignorance (as with all their typical platforms) as “loud and proud” as it can. Spectators were also varied and numerous. In fact, the true parade of this event was the parade of people waling in front of us.
The thing that I enjoyed the most at an event like this is you never know who you will run into. I encountered several old friends and acquaintances that I haven’t made an effort to see in ages. But you can walk, eat and people watch yourself right into the smiling face of someone you have forgotten to miss.
Where Do You Stand?
Though each side of the BBBBQ argument has sound reasoning I can honestly say that we had a good time. I would like to see a stronger effort to uphold the community standards that NWA had fought so hard to represent in the south. But labeling the entire rally based on the proclivities of some attendees feels hypocritical. I know I only witnessed 6 hours in a small space and that some bad things did happen and I know that there is so much that I haven’t even considered. But having been to many festivals in communities that I’m sure weren’t all for us being there, where there were dumb people doing dumb things, I’m not sure that BBBBQ tops the “worst of” list.
I can’t help but think that maybe as locals with a message, we could ban together attend BBBBQ together to help our message be heard in a “if we can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em” kind of attitude.