Thunder in the Smokies rumbles into MaggieBike rally to feature full roster of entertainment
MAGGIE VALLEY — For those who’ve never been to Thunder in the Smokies, rising country star Eric Lee Beddingfield has a few words for you.
“You don’t have to have a bike to have a good time,” he said of the always-popular motorcycle rally, which returns to the Maggie Valley Festival Grounds this Friday.
Beddingfield, who played Thunder last year and is headlining this year, does have a bike — and he might even ride it into town — but he knows the all-ages rally isn’t just about choppers, cruisers and dual sports. It’s about the lovely location, welcoming atmosphere, many vendors and, of course, the live music.
Nashville-based Beddingfield and his band are just one at least a half-dozen groups of different genres who will be playing for the crowds all three days of the festival.
In his words, “There’s a little something for everybody.”
The same could be said for his original tunes, which run the gamut from southern rock to country to blues. As a performer, he’s kind of a “mutt,” he explained, adding that most of his music is upbeat and high-energy, just the kind of stuff that tends to get the Thunder crowd fired up.
“Those guys go out there for a reason, to have a good time,” Beddingfield said. “I think when you’re laying down and rocking good, they’re appreciative, and they show it.”
That kind of talk is sure to get Thunder newbies like Wayne Andrews revved up. Andrews, who plays in the rock trio Crash Cadillac, explained that while he’s never played this rally before, he’s done many a bike event in the past. He likes them, he explains, because bikers tend to be a “laid-back” group. Sometimes they like fast songs, and sometimes they like slow songs.
The trick is to read the crowd just right, “and then maybe everyone gets up and dances,” Andrews said.
He's happy about coming out to Maggie from his home in Columbia, South Carolina — and not just because he knows the little town is beautiful. He’s excited to introduce so many people to Crash Cadillac, which he calls “an audio-visual experience all the way across the board,” reminiscent of the big rock acts of the 1970s. Andrews believes Maggie hasn’t seen anything like it in years.
“There are a lot of bands that play rock ‘n’ roll,” he said, “but there are very few rock ‘n’ roll bands.”
This may be true, but singer Geneva — proclaimed “Queen of the Bike Rally” by “Thunder Roads” magazine — is certainly one of them. While Crash Cadillac comes from a ’70s sensibility, Geneva (who just goes by her first name), is all about the ’80s. The buxom and big-haired with a leather-and-lace style, she’s been laying down rock tunes exclusively at rallies for nearly 10 years. Her upcoming appearance at Thunder will be her fourth and, like always, she’s looking forward to whipping her audience into a fun frenzy.
“We’re really high energy,” she said. “We feed off the crowd. They feed off us.”
While she does several hundred rally dates a year, Geneva insists that there’s something special about Thunder in the Smokies. Having grown up just outside of Nashville (right next to Ricky Skaggs, no less), she’s really a “country girl” at heart, she explained, and Thunder fits her down-home sensibility.
While some rallies can be a little rough and tumble, this one is “good, clean fun,” she said, adding, “I don’t think there’ll be anything going on at that event that I wouldn’t want my grandma to witness.”
Thunder represents her favorite aspects of biking culture, from the caring the camaraderie. Bikers tend to treat each other like “brothers and sisters,” Geneva explained, which is what drew her to the world after doing years of more traditional venues.
Shortly after her band became the first to perform for U.S. troops in Iraq, they were offered a gig at the Buffalo Chip campground in Sturgis, South Dakota, during the town’s famed bike rally.
It didn’t take long for her to realize they’d found their niche.
Almost a decade later, Geneva’s happy to be fully entrenched in the biker world and has no plans of leaving. When asked what keeps her on the road, constantly on the move to rallies big and small, she didn’t have to think too long.
“It’s because I love those people,” she said.
For more information about Thunder in Smokies, including prices for passes and schedule updates, visit www.handlebarcorral.com or call (828) 246-2101.
Thunder in Smokies schedule
Friday, Sept. 14
11 a.m. — Gates open, with vendors open all day
5 p.m. — Ali Randolph and the Outta Luck Band
7 p.m. — Crash Cadillac
9 p.m. — Geneva
Saturday, Sept. 15
9 a.m. — Gates open, with vendors open all day
10 a.m. — Tour ride leaves out
Noon — Bike show line up
1 p.m. — Winners of bike show announced ($500 for first place)
1 to 4 p.m. — Bike games ($500 for first place)
4 p.m. — Dixie Dream Dancers
5 p.m. — Tammy Davis Band
7 p.m. — Ali Randolph and the Outta Luck Band
9:30 p.m. — Eric Lee Beddingfield
Sunday, Sept. 16
9 a.m. — Gates open, with vendors open until 3 p.m.
9 to 10 a.m. — Free pancake breakfast
10 a.m. — Church service, with Christian music to follow, including Apprehended Ones