One event has dominated Pendleton for so long that the town’s nickname is the Round-Up city.
Although no event is likely to match the cultural importance of the world-famous rodeo, the one-two punch of the Pendleton Whisky Music Fest and Pendleton Bike Week is starting to see the same kind of tourism impact outside of September.
Pendleton Bike Week co-founder Eric Folkestad was still crunching the numbers the day after the multi-day motorcycle rally ended, but he estimated that there was a 25 percent increase in registrations from the year before. In 2016, 16,000 people participated in bike week over four days.
By the time whisky fest welcomed Maroon 5 and a slew of openers July 15, the concert’s organizers had already announced it was sold-out show, the 16,500 tickets sold representing a 30 percent increase from the inaugural event.
Some local businesses are reaping the rewards from the larger crowd.
Prodigal Son Pub & Brewery owner Tim Guenther said there’s always been more to Pendleton then Round-Up, with whisky fest and bike week representing the latest addition to the event calendar.
Since whisky fest is mostly condensed into one day, Guenther said the concert was the closest to matching the fervor of the Round-Up, although bike week was also creating business that was competitive with the rodeo.
Guenther said both the motorcycle rally and the concert are all-hands-on-deck events that require Prodigal Son to pare down its menu to meet the demands of the customer surge.
“They’re focused more on production and less on your creativity,” he said.
For Pendleton Convention Center Manager Pat Beard, these are exactly the type of events he would like to see in Pendleton.
“It’s how I would like it to function on a regular basis,” he said.
The convention center hosted bike week and is also next door to the whisky fest venue at the Round-Up arena. Regardless of whether the convention center hosts anything or not, the fact that both events attracted significant out-of-town visitors meant the center saw a benefit through the city’s two hotel room taxes.
Beard compared the July events to the ongoing wheat harvest — it might be noisier and busier than usual around the area, but the outcome means more economic benefits for Pendleton.
With both events still relatively new (whisky fest is two years old while bike week just wrapped up its third year), Beard said there are still some kinks for Pendleton to work out, like some of the traffic issues and convincing local businesses to stay open longer during the events.
In the meantime, organizers for both bike week and whisky fest are happy with their 2017 results.
Folkestad, the bike week organizer, said both new sponsor Harley Davidson and concert headliner Grand Funk Railroad were pleased with the reception they got at the rally.
Bikers were apparently happy as well, filling the convention center to a standing-room only capacity for the final day of the poker run drawing, Folkestad said
The 2018 bike week is already set to start July 18.
Whisky fest co-organizer Doug Corey said it was unclear how Pendleton would react to a non-country act, but with a sellout crowd showing up for Maroon 5, organizers are already planning for another whisky fest in 2018.
Besides selling more tickets, organizers were also able to iron out the alcohol vendor wait times and accessibility issues that sometimes plagued the concert last year.
Having already received questions about how whisky fest will top this year’s event, Corey said the goal is to at least match the experience.
Contact Antonio Sierra at firstname.lastname@example.org or 541-966-0836.
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