The biggest biker rally in East Texas again revved up downtown Longview on Saturday. Rockers Riders & Ribs rocked out it second year with thousands of bikers, shoppers and those just looking for a good time.
“Everybody likes it,” said motorcycle enthusiast Steve Clark of White Oak. “It’s at home. You ain’t got to drive 100 miles to get here.”
But hundreds of people did choose to drive hundreds of miles Saturday, just as when 10,611 people from 35 states and 427 zip codes entered the Rockers Riders & Ribs grounds this past October.
The event gained national notoriety earlier this year when CycleFish Biker & Motorcycle Network listed Rockers Riders & Ribs as the 28th major event of its kind amongst more than 3,500 biker-focused rallies — the first time in a decade that any first-year event reached the major events list — said event organizer Larry Jobe, who also is the News-Journal’s advertising director.
“There are national eyeballs on this,” said Jobe, adding that the executive vice president of Harley-Davidson came to Longview this weekend along with top executives of Chrysler Corp. to enjoy the event firsthand.
“That’s why Harley corporate is here,” Jobe said, “because we put on a clean, respectful, fun rally — a place where you can bring your kids, a place where you can have a beer, have some food, listen to some great bands and just enjoy it and have a good time.”
Patrons had few complaints Saturday.
“I think it’s a little more organized,” Clark said as he sat beneath a bank carport to watch motorcycle simulated drag racing. “I’ve got the same shady spot I had last year.”
It was a temporary rest for Clark, who was breaking from sitting in front of the performance stage where he took in the music.
Clark is a regular patron of Bike Night Thursdays at Longview’s Harley-Davidson store, where he won three free tickets to Rockers Riders & Ribs to share with his sister, nephew and a cousin as well as a friend from Lake Charles, Louisiana. In 2016, he won eight tickets, bringing friends in from Shreveport.
“The way the vendors are set — they’re all pretty much in the same area,” he said as a positive Saturday versus this past year’s event. “I like the way they’ve got the drags away from everything else. I pretty much like it all. I mostly just sit out and watch the bands.”
Music blared through the streets throughout Saturday into the night from a lineup of musicians concluding with The Kentucky Headhunters, Edgar Winter and headliner Foghat.
Louisiana Swamp Donky was the only band that performed at Rockers Riders & Ribs in 2016. Band member Eric Shively said he felt the event was unique from the moment his set ended this past October.
“When we came off stage last year, the first thing Larry (Jobe) said was, ‘You’ll be back next year.’ We high-fived and we were pumped up, and so we’ve been looking forward to it all year,” Shively said. “The East Texas motorcycle crowd has really grown over the last 15 years, and it just turns out that it looks like this has become the center of something that is blowing up quick. To see the crowd turnout they had last year on the first go was very shocking to us.”
Barbara Neagle of Lake O’ the Pines, who works in Longview, said she returned to Rockers Riders & Ribs for the music and her friends.
“Right now, just four,” Neagle said of the number of people in her crowd of friends Saturday afternoon, “but probably about 20 when the night’s over … It’s just a great, great thing that’s going on.”
Several patrons commented that the event was more organized than 2016, especially with how the grounds were set up.
“Much more organized,” Art Clendenin of Longview said. “It’s better than last year. It’s going to grow.”
“This is better than last year,” said Cheryl Cade. “It brings a lot of money into this area.”
Her husband, auctioneer Walt Cade, agreed and joked that the only thing bad about the event was that it lacked an auction. He said he enjoyed that the grounds were spread out over several streets and that the VIP section was in front of the performance stage rather than to the side, allowing those guests a premium view of the bands.
“I would say it’s a lot better than last year from the sight of it,” Walt Cade said.
Even shoppers such as Angela Dean of Shreveport made the trip with friends to peruse the vendors.
“This is fun,” Dean said. “It’s really good. There’s a lot of good vendors. You can get a lot of good deals by coming out here and shopping or looking for biker stuff.”
Not every performance was on the main stage.
John Obando returned from Mesquite to entertain crowds in the Globe of Death, in which he rides round and round inside a 14.5-foot-diameter steel ball.
“It’s a rush,” he said. “It’s all about coordination and just having timing down. … It’s nice knowing that you can entertain people with something as simple as this. You put smiles on people’s faces just by doing something as simple as riding in circles.”
It takes all of the vendors, volunteers, musicians and sponsors having fun along with the patrons to make Rockers Riders & Ribs successful, Jobe said.
“That’s kind of the secret sauce is just enjoy yourself, have a good time, don’t get stupid, have fun,” Jobe said, “and people have bought in to this event and feel like they have some ownership. You’ve got to have a passion for it, though.”
Frank Clark has been among the volunteers since Rockers Riders & Ribs’ beginning, Jobe said. He once was an organizer and supporter of the long-ago Party in the Pines annual rally but has latched on to this latest downtown event, saying it has brought something back to Longview.
“Longview has been missing a big music event, and it’s really had a hole in the big motorcycle crowd, so this kind of marries them together,” said Frank Clark, a local engineer. “You know, the barbecue is just a side benefit. I think Longview and East Texas as a whole is really benefiting from something like this because of the fact that it brings a lot of people with similar interests together, and as far as I know, there’s nothing within 50 to 60 miles for anything like this.”
He said also that he hasn’t met a single patron who came to the 2016 rally that said they weren’t returning this year.
“For an event like that to have a repeat and then all of your friends that you talked to about it, that says a great bit for the event itself,” Frank Clark said. “Even knowing (Jobe’s commitment and event-planning background) and seeing what came out of it, I would have never predicted that kind of crowd last year.”
Final attendance numbers Saturday would not be available until late today or Monday, Jobe said, but early indications were that Saturday’s crowd would top 2016’s.
Locals like the Cades say they are happy about the festival’s success.
“We needed a good downtown festival,” Walt Cade said, “and I think this is it.”