Two weeks ago, the Anniston City Council postponed approvals for Rumble on Noble, a motorcycle show and concert hosted on Noble Street by Full Throttle, a group of motorcycle magazines.
With the City Council set to consider the requests again at its Tuesday meeting, no compromises over the location of the event, scheduled for Aug. 24, have been reached. Meanwhile, merchants, council members, organizers and the public have revved up a debate that touches on a view of the festival as a nuisance and enduring images of bikers as rough-edged troublemakers, images that stand in opposition, some say, to contemporary motorcycle enthusiasts who spend a great deal of money on what is essentially a very expensive hobby.
The debate has frayed some nerves in the community, though those trying to reach a solution say talks have been calm, but compromise elusive.
Randy Snyder, Full Throttle's publisher and one of the event organizers, said Friday his group had not yet come to a compromise with the city over how to move forward with the event.
“It’s one big mess is what it is,” Councilman Jay Jenkins said Friday. “One big mess, and I don’t have it worked out yet.”
Seeking a solution
Jenkins has been speaking with organizers about ways to make the event more amenable to all sides. He said one suggestion was for organizers to agree to donate all proceeds to local charities through the Northeast Alabama Community Foundation.
Jenkins also said he proposed shifting the event down Noble Street between Eighth and 10th streets and extending it one block in either direction along 10th Street. Under this setup, he said, the stage could sit at bottom of the slope on the western leg of 10th Street near the Peerless Grille and Saloon and be viewed like an amphitheater.
Snyder said he was concerned about a funeral home located on that stretch of Noble Street.
But Roy Goodson, owner of Goodson Funeral Home at the corner of Ninth Street, said moving the event in front of his business wouldn’t be a problem as long as he can get in and out of his back entrance. He said he has services on Saturdays, but they are generally at churches, so the Rumble wouldn’t interfere.
“Any way I can help out is fine with me,” he said. “As a matter of fact, it would be good advertisement.”
Snyder said he is also concerned about cutting out major bars and restaurants such as The Office and the Smoking Moose Saloon on upper blocks of Noble Street.
“Rumble is just one day a year, and I think it does good for us,” said Alan Stovall, owner of The Office. If the event is canceled, he said, it would cost him a lot of business on that Saturday. He said he thinks many of the concerns from local businesses are small enough that parties should be able to work out simple solutions.
“There’s a fix to just about anything if you look hard enough,” he said.
The proposed plan also bypasses shops along the street whose owners have expressed concerns about the event.
At the last council work session, Jennie Preston of the Rabbit Hutch Gift Shop said the Rumble drastically affects her business because her customers have difficulty accessing her shop when the street is closed. She said via email Friday that the opportunity to speak at the council work session was the first time the council asked merchants their opinions on the event.
At that meeting, Preston also told the council the event attracted the “wrong kind of people” to Anniston’s downtown, which sparked a strong reaction in the community.
But Preston said Friday that when she made that comment, she was not referring to bikers in general or all Rumble attendees, but rather to particular people over the years who have behaved inappropriately in her shop during the Rumble.
“I am sorry if my comments were taken the wrong way… It was not my intent to offend anyone,” she said. “I have several bikers who shop in my store throughout the year, and I appreciate them.”
Members of the City Council said their concern over the event was misinterpreted as bias against motorcyclists, which isn’t the case.
“This was not at all about stereotyping bikers,” Councilwoman Millie Harris said. “It’s about accountability. We owe it to our citizens to safeguard their money.”
Parks and Recreation Director Steven Folks said the city contributes about $8,300 worth of in-kind services including blocking off streets, equipment and labor in his department, Public Works and the Police Department. Last year, the council appropriated $5,000 to the event, which Jenkins attributed to the state of the economy and struggles to finance the event. He said he felt the money was warranted at the time.
Anniston police Capt. Allen George has worked the event since it began nine years ago. Each year, he said, organizers pay hourly wages for five officers to patrol the event, while the department provides another five.
“We’ve only had one fight, and that was year one or year two,” he said, adding that it was at one of the bars.
“Someone took offense to someone blowing smoke on them, and a scuffle ensued,” he said. “Other than that, we’ve had no major instances at all.”
George said the quality of the entertainment and friendliness of the vendors and attendees makes the event one of the department’s favorite to cover each year.
Randy McBee, an associate professor of history at Texas Tech University, is completing a book on the history of motorcyclists since 1947.
He said motorcycle rallies “have sort of a state-fair feel to them,” selling the same types of food and offering similar vendor opportunities while sometimes incorporating edgier elements like pole dancing, in which women — often scantily clad — dance and pose around a vertical pole.
McBee said a 1947 rally in Hollister, Calif., led to the image of motorcyclists and their rallies as noisy, drunken and unruly. The term “outlaw” in reference to motorcyclists soon followed, made more relevant by the 1953 Marlon Brando film “The Wild One.”
In the mid-to-late 1960s, he said, clubs like the Hell’s Angels begin to gain notoriety primarily because of criminal activity and become linked to guns and drugs. By the early 1970s, the term outlaw faded out of use and was replaced by “biker.”
“Motorcyclists during this time are mostly working-class guys,” he said.
But that began to change in the late 1980s and early 1990s, with the rise of RUBs — rich, urban bikers.
“Respectable men and women are a very prominent part of motorcycle culture and have been for a decade,” McBee said.
Middle-class bikers of today embrace the motorcycle culture, often blending right in with the kind of cyclist who decades ago would have been called an outlaw, he said. During this same period, he said, motorcyclists became closely associated with veterans and ideologically part of mainstream conservative America.
This is true locally as well; each year the Rumble on Noble includes a military tribute.
“In most cases, motorcyclists are have been welcomed across the country,” McBee said, noting that the motorcyclists bring in money and vendors benefit from the events. At the same time, motorcyclists are seen as more respectable, associated more with charity runs now than guns and drugs as in the past.
George Silva, general manager of the Mt. Cheaha Harley-Davidson dealership in Oxford, said there is always some sort of charitable activity going there or with the Harley Owners Group affiliated with the store.
After the April 2011 tornadoes, Silva said, his store raised $13,000 for the Williams community, which was hit hard by the disaster.
The HOG chapter, he said, organizes a teddy bear run to Birmingham each year to deliver stuffed animals to patients at the children’s hospital and another run to the Alabama School for the Deaf and Blind in Talladega to give children Christmas presents and spending money.
“We do so many things for people with cancer, people who need money,” he said.
Silva said when people buy a motorcycle, they join a family.
“We treat people like that,” Silva said. “These Harley-Davidson people have big hearts.”
Snyder said he expects to lose $12,000-$18,000 on the event if it is canceled. Part of that sum is the deposit to book headlining act Drivin’ N Cryin’ — one of several bands set to play at the event.
Besides the money, every day that goes by, Snyder said, he and his colleagues are missing or pressing on deadlines for the event.
He said he needs 30 days in order to secure special events permits for food vendors from the county health department. Print deadlines for his magazine, in which he was to publicize the event, were Friday.
Harris said Friday that she is open to negotiation on how to move forward, including possibly letting the event run as it has in the past but with stipulations to eliminate such elements as skimpy bathing suits on stage and pole dancing on the street and for the organizers to meet with the City Council earlier to form a plan for next year.
She also said she felt the T-shaped setup was a fair compromise for both sides.
Councilman Seyram Selase said he looked forward to hearing organizers’ proposal Tuesday. “For this to move forward, there will have to be some changes,” he said.
Councilman David Reddick supports allowing the Rumble to go forward this year. He said council members should address their concerns about the Rumble, but at the same time, members also have an obligation to let organizers know about potential problems prior to a month before the event.
“I can’t see this late in the game and this far into an event changing my mind about allowing them to come,” he said.
Jenkins said he’s not yet sure how he will vote on whatever proposal comes before the council, adding that he will make the decision he feels is right.
“The ball,” he said, “is kind of in their court at this point.”
Staff writer Paige Rentz: 256-235-3564. On Twitter @PRentz_Star.