John Pearson, of D&D Cycles Pensacola, asks a question about the upcoming Thunder Beach motorcycle rally during a meeting at the Grand Marlin restaurant in Pensacola on Thursday, November 1, 2018. Due to the devestation caused by Hurricane Michael, the rally which is normally held in Panama City will be held in Pensacola this year.
Thunder Beach Motorcycle Rally organizers confirmed the 18th annual autumn rally will be headquartered in the Casino Beach Bar & Grille municipal parking lot during a Thursday Q&A with Pensacola Beach business representatives.
Organizers of the Panama City-based rally announced in October that they would move the event to Pensacola due to Hurricane Michael's devastation to the eastern Panhandle. The four-day event will run from Nov. 8 through Nov. 11, with organizers and vendors using Nov. 7 as a setup day.
Thunder Beach Productions owner Joe Biggs relayed details to a Grand Marlin conference room packed with local restaurant and lodging representatives, as well as potential vendors, on Thursday morning.
More: Panama City Thunder Beach Motorcycle Rally relocates to Pensacola due to Hurricane Michael
He said the events schedule will be heavily abbreviated compared to past years and the attendance could be one-tenth of what it normally is due to the short notice and change in venue. Still, he thinks Pensacolians are going to enjoy the weekend's festivities.
'My philosophy has always been to under-promise and over-deliver and I'm hoping that's what will happen here next week,' Biggs said. 'I can't answer the question of how many people will be here. Typically for a fall rally in Panama City Beach, depending on weather, it's anywhere from 45,000 to 50,000 to 60,000 people. We're not expecting anything like that at all here.'
Biggs said he's optimistic the rally will field between 5,000 and 7,000 guests.
A hospitality tent containing a bar, a stage for concerts and a large seating area will be pitched in the Casino Beach parking lot and a village of vendors will be all around. The area will likely be fenced in, according to Biggs, but there will be no admission fees or parking fees.
A concert lineup is still being pieced together, but Biggs said he hopes 'one major name to commit.' Tickets will need to be purchased to attend concerts, and Biggs said 100 percent of ticket sale proceeds will go to United Way for Hurricane Michael disaster relief, specifically geared toward Bay County.
'Our concert lineup is still evolving,' he said. 'With the devastation that happened in Panama City and the rest of Bay County, I saw it as an opportunity for Thunder Beach to give back to a community that's been good to us for 20 years now.'
Thunder Beach is setting up an Eventbrite page where tickets to individual shows can be purchased ahead of time. The page will link directly to United Way so that every cent goes directly to the charity. Tickets can also be purchased on-site.
The concerts will run from 7-10:30 p.m. Friday, Nov. 9; Saturday, Nov. 10; and Sunday, Nov. 11. Savoy Brown will open for Foghat on Nov. 9, but the concert lineup beyond that is uncertain.
Vendors will operate their stands each day from 9 a.m. until 6 p.m. The type of vendors will mostly consist of those who cater to the motorcycle crowd and sell parts, gear, etc.
Event founder and president Joe Biggs, top, talks to local business people about the upcoming Thunder Beach motorcycle rally during a meeting at the Grand Marlin restaurant in Pensacola on Thursday, November 1, 2018. Due to the devestation caused by Hurricane Michael, the rally which is normally held in Panama City will be held in Pensacola this year.
Besides vendor shopping in the day and concerts at night, Thunder Beach organizers are planning riding routes for the riders eager to explore Pensacola. Biggs talked about possibly riding out to Naval Air Station Pensacola and historic downtown.
Thunder Beach General Manager Chris Anderson said a tour of downtown Pensacola's breweries is in the works for Nov. 10, and he's working with the 2018 Veteran's Day Parade organizers to include motorcycle riders in the Nov. 11 parade.
“We're just trying to add more things to get people to fall in love with the area,' Anderson said.
Thunder Beach is looking forward to gauging Pensacola's reception to the event in hopes of possibly holding similar rallies in the future. Organizers said a major focus during this autumn rally is to get Panama City Beach riders acquainted with Pensacola and everything the area has to offer.
'I think the biggest thing is, I want people to come in here and get to know the community so that they'll get comfortable here and want to come back here,' Biggs said. 'With their family, their kids, with or without their leathers, because it's a really good audience we bring and I think y'all will find that out.'
Robbie Schrock, Santa Rosa Island Authority director of administration, said facilitating the rally has been a breeze on the island authority's part, and she expects the event to be well received by Pensacola and Pensacola Beach residents.
'We're very excited to be able to help out our neighbors to the east,' Shrock said. 'I think you can tell from this room right now there's not an empty seat left, so that tells you this community is all hands on deck and ready to support this organization and these gentlemen in any way that we can.'
Shrock mentioned last year's H.O.G Rally in Pensacola as an indicator that the motorcycle rally culture is a market Pensacola is starting to tap into, and a relationship that could blossom going forward.
'We welcome everyone here and hope they do see all of what our community has to offer,' she said. 'You could hear (Biggs) say his heart is in Panama City, however that doesn't mean they can't create another event if he has the time, and maybe we can host that here.'
There will be a kick-start party at Bamboo Willie's from 7-11 p.m. Nov. 8. In the coming days, Thunder Beach should link Visit Pensacola's available lodging options to its website, ThunderBeachProductions.com. A list of vendors and performers should be added to that website as they are booked.
All other lodging or vendor inquiries can email Thunder Beach organizers at Info@thunderbeachproductions.com.
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