Thunder in the Smokies goes country

Rally to feature national country music acts
By Stina Sieg | Sep 09, 2011
Photo by: Donated Keith Burns and Michelle Poe, known on stage as Burns & Poe, are two of the many nationally known country musicians who will play at this weekend's Thunder in the Smokies Motorcycle Rally.

As bikers come together this weekend in Maggie Valley, they can expect what they’ve come to enjoy about Thunder in the Smokies Motorcycle Rally these last nine years. As always, the three-day, family-friendly event will feature its ever-popular bike games, bike show, vendors and scenic ride on the Blue Ridge Parkway.

This year, however, Thunder lovers can also count on a little country soul.

For the first time ever, the rally is bucking its classic rock tradition and presenting three big-time country acts Friday and Saturday night. Eric Lee Beddingfield, Cody McCarver, and Burns & Poe are well-known in the country scene, all with recently released records out and videos on CMT. They are the biggest bands to have ever graced the rally’s stage — but don’t expect any snooty, holier-than-thou songsters. That’s not the cowboy way.

That couldn’t have been more clear during a recent phone interview with Burns & Poe, a duo sometimes described as the Sonny and Cher of country music. When asked what folks could expect this weekend, Keith Burns pulled no punches.

“We’re going to try to entertain the hell out of them,” he said, with a laugh.

The pair, who have been making music together for several years, aren’t in the business of creating pop-infused country tunes but instead making original music from a traditional viewpoint. Michelle Poe, who was also on the line, described their sound as “not poppy at all.”

“It’s just the kind of old-school stuff that we grew up on,” she said.

Even before they met, the twosome had rich educations in country music. For years, Poe and her bass backed up such stars as Dierks Bently and Hank Williams Jr. Burns, a guitar player, was one of the founding members of the Grammy-nominated band Trick Pony, which was actually a Maggie Valley mainstay before hitting it big. People might remember him from the now-defunct Thunder Ridge venue. He sure remembers the place.

“I love Maggie Valley,” Burns said. “I’ve got some great — I mean fantastic — memories there.”

For fans of Burns’ Trick Pony days, he promised that they can expect a few of the band’s songs at the upcoming show, as well as some beloved country covers to which everyone can sing along. The rest of their set will be original Burns & Poe songs, which Burns likes to think of as a cross between the Eagles and Lee Ann Womack. Between his rough-edged vocals and Poe’s sweeter, feminine ones, they create what he calls “gravel and grace.”

While the two aren’t a couple, they are known for their onstage chemistry. Their kidding between songs adds a light-hearted touch to their performances. Poe explained that this joshing around is just part of who their are.

“We do joke and banter back and forth on stage,” she said. “It just comes natural for us. We’re not putting on a show.”

This easy interaction is undoubtedly part of their success, which has been climbing over the years. They were recently named the 2010 Independent Artist of the Year by “Music Row" magazine, and they can currently be heard on the radio. Their appearance at Thunder in the Smokies comes right at the beginning of a multi-state, months-long tour promoting their new, self-titled CD.

Though the two are nothing but friendly and low-key, that doesn’t mean they aren’t prone to a little hyperbole. As Burns described this weekend’s show, he painted a picture of a concert that would nothing less than ground-breaking and epic — and he was nearly laughing as he did so.

To quote him, expect a “a high-speed, Las Vegas, action-packed, on-the-edge-of-your-seat, exciting extravaganza of epic proportions, unparalleled in the United States of America.”

Not too bad for a night out in Maggie.

The Thunder in the Smokies Motorcycle Rally will run from 11 a.m. to 11 p.m. Friday, 9 a.m. to 11 p.m. Saturday and 9 a.m. through 3 p.m. Sunday at the Maggie Valley Festival Grounds. Tickets are $20 for Friday and Saturday. Sunday, which features a sermon, Christian rock and a complimentary pancake breakfast (while the hot cakes last), is free. For more information, visit


Thunder in the Smokies Motorcycle Rally

Friday, Sept. 9

Gates open 11 a.m to 11 p.m., vendors open all day

5:30 to 7 p.m. — Music TBA

7:30 p.m. to 9 p.m. — All My Rowdy Friends (a tribute to Hank Williams Jr.)

9:30 p.m. to 11 p.m. — Eric Lee Beddingfield

Saturday, Sept. 10

Gates open 11 a.m to 11 p.m., vendors open all day

10 a.m. — Free tour ride on the Blue Ridge Parkway, sponsored by Clarketon Motel

Noon — Ride-in bike show ($500 cash prize)

1 to 4 p.m. — Bike games, sponsored by AIM ($500 cash prize)

4:45 to 5:30 p.m. and 5:45 to 6:30 p.m. — Brinn Black

7:30 to 9 p.m. — Burns & Poe

9:30 to 11 p.m. — Cody McCarver

Sunday, Sept. 11

Gates open 11 a.m to 3 p.m., vendors open all day

9 to 10 a.m. — Free pancake breakfast (while supplies last)

10 a.m. — Church service

11 a.m. to noon — Apprehended One

12:30 p.m. — Full Circle