The Hollister Experience

Story & Photos by Geri Cidot

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When the decision was made to go to the Hollister Independence Rally for the 4th of July weekend, I really didn’t know what to expect. I read about some of the history of the Independence Rally and if you web search Hollister Rally you will find multiple articles of the infamous 1947 Hollister motorcycle riot where on July 4th of that year it is said that around 4,000 motorcyclists were partying in a town of about 4,500. Although the bikers didn’t really take over the town, they did have harmless fun such as doing wheelies in the streets and riding into bars (with the bartenders’ permission).

IMG_2211 60pcNonetheless the bikers’ image as the lawless wild ones was established by that event and it has been exaggerated by newspapers to include the staged photograph of the biker with beer bottles scattered around his bike and the Marlon Brando 1953 movie, The Wild One. These events have laid the roots of this rally becoming one of California’s biggest motorcycle rallies. The Rally is held in downtown Hollister centered on San Benito Street near the historical Johnny’s Bar and Grill (between 4th and 7th Street and between Monterey Street and Sally Street).

I rode into the small town of Hollister, CA on Friday July 1st. Approaching the town from the 156 exiting on 156B San Juan Hollister Rd. The town had the small down home community feeling with postcard type homes and small family businesses. It was quiet and peaceful entering the town without many sightings of fellow motorcyclists leading me to believe that possibly many of my fellow Hollister partygoers may not be arriving until Saturday. My mind wondered on how this quaint, tiny town hosts over 150,000 motorcycle enthusiasts over a three-day event. I then made a right hand turn on San Benito street to discover my previous thoughts of true festivities would not truly kick off until Saturday was far from accurate. The street was lined with hundreds of motorcycles for several blocks down. The transition from riding down a tranquil, picturesque town to the sights and sounds of motorcycles, music and fellow bikers brought me to life after riding over 6 hours in heat upwards of 115 degrees on the 5 freeway.

I suddenly was not as tired as I was 5 minutes prior and excited to park my bike and join in on the rally experience. We were lucky to find parking in the center of the street close to the Harley-Davidson Main Stage. Upon parking my bike and taking off my riding gear I was approached by fellow riders who asked me to take their picture memorializing their arrival at Hollister. I could tell by their enthusiasm I was not alone in my thoughts of how awesome this weekend was going to be.

My weekend partner in crime and I were parched from the long ride and headed towards the beer gardens right away. Since we arrived later in the day due to the demands of the 9 to 5 which finances my motorcycles and fun times we missed some of the bands that were kicking off the event. Two all female bands played earlier in the day– Miss Behaved from San Francisco Bay Area, and Zepparella who use the background of Led Zeppelin’s musical genius to create their own improvised artistry. We were able to experience Journey Revisited, a great way to unwind and relive the Journey classics in all their original keys leaving you with the feeling that you just went back into time to the “Perry & Rolie” in the raw without pre-recorded backing tacks or digital vocal enhancements. It was the perfect way to relax with a beer (or two, but who’s counting?) in hand and prepare to experience the Hollister bike event legendary Independence Rally.

2016-07-02 12.32.31 35pcPumped with Journey nostalgia and a few beers (again who’s counting) we decided to go explore the surrounding streets just to find out how large this rally truly is. Rows upon rows of vendors with the usual bikers needs and wants that accompany any long established event. The event boasted three different stages with beer gardens leaving me feeling I was going to have to formulate a plan of attack for day two of the event. Since it was winding down we decided to get back on our bikes and head to Gilroy to check in at the hotel and crash so we could be properly rested for the adventures to come.

Riding into the town on day two (Saturday) was a much different scene than the day before. A thunderous roar of pipes echoed through the town although it was only 9am. We wanted to visit the Indian Motorcycle shop in Hollister since yours truly is a lover of the Indians and an owner of two 2014’s. I had seen their website and wanted to see the shop. The Hollister Indian shop did not disappoint. Custom painted Indians besides the factory painted bikes to include custom leather options. Very approachable staff willing to hobnob with customers and treat everyone as the most important person there although many Indian motorcycle enthusiasts as well as Indian curious patrons were there to admire the machines and apparel. This was also the first stop in the poker run taking place that morning. I scored an Indian riding jacket from last years apparel line at 50% off. As any of you know that kind of find can put any motorcyclist on cloud 9.

I knew I had to tear myself away from the gorgeous bikes to get myself parked in the middle of the motorcycle frenzy. Of course I wanted to be right in the middle of the craziness! Approaching the same location as Friday was not as easy. Lines of bikes went all the way through the town as everyone wanted to cruise through the heart of the event to strut their stuff, rev those pipes and park their bikes. The streets were overflowing with people taking pictures and videos of the hundreds of arrivals.

Just as I was feeling that my window of opportunity was fading fast to get prime parking in the center of the rumble, I peered to my right to see several guys motioning me to park. This may have been pure chance, luck or maybe karma because after we squeezed our bikes into the open space and I turned to thank them, to my surprise it was the same group I was greeted by on my first day of arrival. That’s really amazing since there are literally thousands of people. I gave them all an enthusiastic high five and of course I had to take their picture again for my own memories. I could have easily stood on the street and just watched all the motorcycles roar by flooding the already small streets with sights and sounds of biker essence all day and not be bored a bit– but there was so much to experience I had to get a move on.

We headed across the street to the Veteran’s Hall for the Corbin Bike Competition. As with any motorcycle rally you always have bikers and companies ready to showcase their machines to compete with others. We went inside the Hall to find a line up of vintage Indians, Harleys and Triumphs with newer model Triumphs as well. Of course we all know Triumph would have to represent since that was the motorcycle Marlon Brando rode in the movie.

IMG_2191 50pcIt was time to hear some bands and cool off with a beer (or two, again who’s counting) so we headed off to the Geico stage and Coors beer gardens to listen to Beer Drinkers & Hell Raisers who were formed in 2011 from the Bay area and are the ultimate ZZ Top tribute band. Can I say I fell in love? I’m now an official groupie. This band has it all, the music, the vocals, the look and the attitude. They are a 3-piece band that leaves you wanting nothing more. Complete with long beards and tattoos they pull off the vibe of ZZ Top minus any threat to cheesy. If you find yourself in the Bay area I would highly recommend looking them up to hopefully see them perform. I couldn’t pass up an opportunity to put on one of their tank tops to get up close and personal with the band for a photo opp!

That scene left me in the “lets get the party started” frame of mind so it was time to get a little more hard-core and experience Motley Cruella, the all female tribute band to Motley Crue. They were formed in 2012 and by the crowd of people surrounding the stage at the Harley Davidson Beer garden you can tell they are a fan favorite. The sex appeal the girls have doesn’t hurt! They pull off leathers, fishnet stockings and tattoos flawlessly. Only thing I was bummed about was the long line to get a beer (or two….) while enjoying the show.

After hours of rocking out and a couple or more of beers it was time to hunt down some vendor BBQ and reboot a bit with shopping. This is the place to buy swag. Patches for your leathers, all biker clothing apparel and of course more event t-shirts and tank tops you could imagine.

We also ventured over to see Monte Perlin’s Globe of Death. He was the stunt double to Arnold Schwarzenegger for Terminator 3. He also acted in the movie, The Wager, starring country music legend Randy Travis. I have seen events such as The Globe of Death on television but never live. It leaves you mesmerized with a feeling of respect and slight fear for the talents of these riders. Monte Perlin lives in Los Angeles and spends hours honing his skills on motorcycles of all kinds from street rockets to motocross. The Globe of Death is a must sight to see.

2016-07-02 13.12.26 55pcNext up, off to the beer gardens again to experience Caravanserai, a Santana tribute band. This is a fantasy band by lead guitarist Leo Herrera and has been a project of devotion by family members and friends. They included hits such as “Evil Ways” from 1969 to Santana’s newest releases from their CD “All That I Am”. It was clear that people fed into their musical talents and thoroughly enjoyed their ability to put on an explosive performance.

We took an intermission to head to the VIP event to partake of some great finger foods so we could re-fuel and prepare to end the day with a band I was really looking forward to seeing, Savannah Blue. This is a six-piece Northern California band that is not just a tribute band to one of the great Southern Rock Bands, but also a salute to ALL of the best. They entertained the crowd with songs from Skynyrd to the Allman Brothers, from The Outlaws to The Marshall Tucker Band, from Molly Hatchet to 38 Special. They are well rounded and prepared to pay homage to the Southern U.S. international music scene. This is another band that I would recommend looking up and if you can catch them on a night you need to be entertained they can fill the bill.

It was time to wind down and head back to the hotel. Although day 3 would be cut short as I had a very long ride ahead of me.

Sunday morning the moment I woke up all I could think about was getting on my bike to head to the Hollister madness again. I knew Beer Drinkers and Hell Raisers were going to be playing again and I couldn’t wait to see them perform one more time. The day was also spent roaming the streets and soaking in the hundreds of motorcycles that represented everything Hollister Independence Rally stands for, the freedom to ride and be a biker.

With the thousands of attendees from families to motorcycle groups and clubs the event went off without a hitch. The town of Hollister welcomes the biker festivities and revenue the event brings in annually, it exudes hospitality and promotes a fun, safe environment for all who attend. The security Hollister provides ensures safety in a non-threatening manner. Hats off– actually Helmets Off– to Hollister and Roadshows for organizing an event of such magnitude in a way to honor the amazing American history of being a biker.