The three-day Cherokee Survivors Motorcycle Rally and Concert kicks off on Sept. 11, in Cherokee, N.C. This annual event, going on 20 years old, began humbly in a local bingo hall. It was founded by Leverne and Susan Brown, and Mark Arnold has been handling the entertainment for the last 12 years. Crowds have peaked at over 12,000 riders, and at least 10,000 are expected this year.
"Music is the biggest part of it," says Arnold. "This is basically a concert that you can ride your bike into."
In case you haven't heard, this year rally-goers will be rocking out to Motörhead, Reverend Horton Heat, Drivin 'n' Cryin, and Big Engine. Even if you were at Altamont, that's a pretty loaded deck. Arnold says the Cherokee Survivors Rally prides itself on its music.
"So many rallies have the same music every year," he says. "We try to freshen it up."
Arnold says that when he came on board, his crew had to start three days out to build a stage. There were no dressing rooms. Now there's a permanent concrete stage and professional dressing rooms for the talent. He also says that the locals are among the biggest fans of the rally.
"Everything we do goes before the tribal council," says Arnold. "They love it."
Along with the rock stage, the rally hosts parts and clothing vendors, tattoo artists, food vendors, and all manner of bike-friendly merch. The bike shows and "beauty pageants" are also perennial favorites.
Arnold offers two words of advice: "Come early.
"You can't buy tickets in advance. It's $40 at the gate. Parking is our only problem, as you can imagine, with 10,000 bikes. But it's a good problem."
Cherokee Survivors 2009 • Sept. 11-13 • Cherokee Indian Fair Grounds [545 Tsali Blvd., Cherokee, N.C.] • $40 for a weekend pass, $10 for Sunday only • www.cherokeerally.com