The Heart and Soul of Arizona Bike Week
By Angela Conner
Photos by Rusty Childress, Smiles, Digger Dave, Perry ‘n Traci, and Angela Conner
With all the advertising that led up to this year’s Arizona Bike Week I anticipated monstrous crowds, huge names in entertainment and a variety of activities to keep me busy. I traded my “I rode mine” patch for a camping permit and decided to seek out the heart and soul of the event by following the sounds of laughter and music which led me to a few encounters that had not been advertised to the general public.
After I hung my size 8 1/2 biker wind chimes from the corner of the trailer’s awning and laid down on the hammock for my first beer of the day, I knew our campsite was officially set up for the duration. According to the lovely Mrs.Suzy Yaffe, campsites at West World had been sold out since early February, so I felt lucky to have my own little home base for the week. Suzy and her crew had transformed the ghost town of a campground into a small city complete with it’s own store, bar and emergency medical trailer. My husband and I decided to roam the neighborhood and introduce ourselves to those who would be sharing our adventure for the next 5 days. We happened upon Kimmyz Bar at the southwest corner of the gold camping section, complete with motorcycle parking out front. Kimmy had set up a full bar with tables, stools, music, and a stripper pole. There were enough regulars to make even Norm from Cheers feel welcome. And the frosting on the cake, free drinks! You heard me, everything was completely free. They hosted this party each night during Bike Week accepting only donations from those who stopped in for a visit. The words genius and generous both come to mind.
We all know how important the vendors are at a rally so we headed over to the wall of patches and antique sewing machines. After finding Leilani and Skip of The Riverview Exchange, I picked out a new patch to freshen up my old black jacket. We chatted about which events they would be participating in this year while Skip worked his textile magic. Leilani multitasked as she told me they were limiting their participation to just the big rallies in the west this year. I was thankful Arizona qualified. My husband and I had made it a point to seek out Leilani and Skip when we were in Sturgis last year because a talented tailor with a friendly smile is always a good thing.
One of the best parts of a biker rally is the live music and this year’s bill was filled with a few icons to say the least. Who wouldn’t want to rock out with Joan Jett, Lynyrd Skynyrd or ZZ Top? Big and Rich as well as Aaron Lewis covered the music for all of the country fans. But the music didn’t stop when the stage grew dark. Late Friday night, long after the show was over and the rumble from the parking lot had died down, a mixture of laughing voices and pentatonic blues music drifted over to our campsite. We wandered toward the commotion and came across a talented blues artist from New York playing to a group of old school bikers who were waiting for the Steel Horse shuttle bus to arrive. The small crowd danced to the soulful sounds of Leadbelly and Robert Johnson songs as the one man band played his guitar, kick drum, and harmonica. The passion and pain in his voice was only matched by the wear and tear on his motorcycle. Stoker had rolled into town on fumes, without a functional 1st gear, and was trying to make a few bucks to fix his bike before heading on to New Orleans. Everything he owned was strapped onto his 2003 black and silver Sportster. As fast as I could snap a picture, a fellow east coast biker/musician pulled out his harmonica for accompaniment and I enjoyed a blues concert fit for the Devil himself.
Riding in the warm Arizona sunshine can sometimes take its toll on a person so when I made the mistake of indulging in a short nap one afternoon I found myself not able to sleep later that night and roamed around the campground at 3am. I noticed an inviting glow coming from the center of the domes in the tent section and couldn’t help but investigate. I was greeted with smiles as I approached the circle of friends singing in the flickering candlelight. I had stumbled across the stage crew celebrating another successful night of working the sound and lights on the main stage. These young men and women had been responsible for building the very stage where Miss Arizona Bike Week 2014, Staci Wilson had been crowned just a few nights before. They were incredibly accepting of visitors and went on to tell me how much they enjoyed being a part of the Rally each year.
For many, Sunday marks the end of Arizona Bike Week, but I often have a hard time accepting that it’s over. My son wanted to see the Busted Knuckles Stunt Show so we brought him up and it gave me a reason to linger around a bit longer with a camera in one hand and a screwdriver in the other. While he collected various stickers which made his bike resemble Jay Allen’s Panhead, I couldn’t resist taking some last minute pictures of the beautiful bartenders. My Chicago-born husband never misses the opportunity to remind my son how lucky he is to live in the desert where you can ride 350 days a year and the women are absolutely gorgeous.
After attending Arizona Bike Week for many years I was seriously blown away by the enormity of this year’s event. I enjoyed all of the concerts, bike runs and entertainment that the AZ Bike Week guide promised but it was the heart and soul experiences at the West World Campground that I will be talking about until next year.
Black Leather, Braids and a Bandana.