THE EXACT YEAR that Fayetteville’s annual Bikes, Blues & BBQ Motorcycle Rally started is the stuff of legend. It can be said with certainty that it incorporated in 2000, making this year’s rally the 20th. What started out rather casually—a blues band, a barbecue smoker, 75-odd motorcycles parked outside of Jose’s Mexican Restaurant on Dickson Street—exploded into 700 bikes the following year and 7,000 the year after that. In recent years, the rally has attracted anywhere between 350,000 and 400,000 bikers and become one of the top ten largest motorcycle rallies in the country. It’s also the single largest charity motorcycle rally in the world and has returned more than $2 million to local charities in its first 19 years, according to the event’s website.
Joe Giles was part of the action almost from the beginning—first, as the frontman of Joe Giles and the Homewreckers, a popular cover band that performed at the rally—and later as the rally’s executive director. As such, if you’re looking to get an first-person account of where BBB has been and where it’s going—well, there are few people better to ask than Joe.
“THERE WERE a few visionaries in Fayetteville in the later 1990s who also happened to be motorcyclists. One was Neal Crawford, who owned Jose’s Mexican Restaurant on Dickson Street. The other was Richard Watson, then the city’s chief of police. Watson was an avid rider and had been to [the Sturgis Motorcycle Rally in South Dakota] and some other rallies. He thought we could do that here in Fayetteville. At the same time, Neal was having a little afternoon rally himself. It was called several different things: Jose’s Bike Festival or the Robert Hatfield Blues Festival. It incorporated and officially became the Bikes, Blues & BBQ Motorcycle Rally in 2000.
“I got involved in 2005 or 2006. My band played on Dickson Street on a regular basis, and I sucked up in any way possible to the club owners so we could get a gig during the rally, which we eventually did. [A few years later], one of my best friends, Nelson Driver, had become the executive director, and I gradually insinuated myself into the inner workings and became Nelson’s unofficial helper. I eventually became the emcee of the main stage and the booking agent for the bands. I was the head honcho (executive director) from 2011 until 2015.
“The growth was absolutely phenomenal. At one point, we were the fastest-growing motorcycle rally in the world. That was due primarily to Dan Allen, the original executive director, then to Mark Pryor [Editor’s note: not to be confused with the U.S. Senator]. Dan was a great promoter and the one who really put the rally in the national spotlight. Mark ratcheted it up even further. He got the Discovery Channel to shoot an episode of Biker Build-Offs there. Nelson Driver, who followed Mark, really continued to grow the rally. After that, I was mostly a caretaker, hanging onto the rope and trying not to let go. Normally, I’m sufficiently incompetent to screw up anything, but I couldn’t even screw that up.
“For real bikers, we live in one of the best parts of the country for riding. The roads in Northwest Arkansas, southwest Missouri and eastern Oklahoma are just great roads. They’re hilly, they’re curvy, and in mid- to late-September, there’s tremendous scenery. I think that had a lot to do with the growth of the rally.
“Another thing that I think is extremely important is that Bikes, Blues & BBQ is family-friendly. On a Saturday afternoon on Dickson Street, when it’s wall-to-wall bikers and everybody down there looks like Hell’s Angels or the Sons of Anarchy, you can take your children down there, and you will see almost nothing objectionable. My mother is a Quaker, and I would not have been embarrassed about anything she saw down there.
“My wife and I will go [to the rally] for a little bit this year. I just want to go down there and have a couple of beers. I don’t want to have any food because that takes up space better filled with alcohol. I just want to have a couple of beers, then listen to some bands and head home. At this point in my life, all I am is a casual attendee.”
Learn more about Bikes, Blues & BBQ—scheduled for Sept. 25-28—by visiting bikesbluesandbbq.org.