September events still planned despite the postponement of Bikes, Blues & BBQ

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FAYETTEVILLE – Bikes, Blues & BBQ may be postponed, but events are still planned at Rogers, and some people say they plan to come.

Festival organizers announced the postponement Thursday night, just after the University of Arkansas announced it would withdraw the agreement allowing the rally to use its parking lots.

The festival’s main stage, previously scheduled for September 22-25, was to be moved to the east grounds of Baum-Walker Stadium from the grounds of the city’s Walton Arts Center on Dickson Street. In a press release, festival organizers said they felt they could not deliver a quality event after such a massive short-term change.

The status of the rally has been called into question after the Washington Regional Medical Center sent a letter this week to the city and later to festival leaders, the University and the City of Rogers saying hospital resources are already being pushed to the limit due to an increase in covid-19 cases. Hosting the festival “would invite disaster,” the letter said.

Also this week, the Fayetteville Board of Health and city administration agreed that rally organizers should cancel or postpone the event for the same reasons Washington Regional described.

Birch Wright, director of operations for Washington Regional, told the city board of health that hospitals in the area are concerned about the lack of staff and resources to deal with the higher number of trauma patients who are typically admitted during the meeting. Moreover, gathering up to 300,000 people nearby could spread covid-19 even more than it has already done in the region, he said.

Bikes, Blues & BBQ is run by a non-profit board. Tommy Sisemore, executive director, said the organization will monitor hospitalizations over the next 30 to 90 days and plan accordingly from there. The weather will play a role, so if hospitalizations are not tempered by winter, a spring rally might be possible, he said.

“There is so much we don’t know right now,” Sisemore said. “We don’t know what we don’t know, and right now that’s a lot.”

The board likely would have postponed the event regardless of the university’s decision, Sisemore said. The situation has always been fluid, he said.

“The conversation was definitely going in that direction,” Sisemore said. “They wanted to have all the information they could in their hands from as many sources as possible.”

The post on the Bikes and Blues Facebook page announcing the postponement received around 2,000 comments by Friday afternoon. Most of the comments were from people saying they were still planning to travel to town. A number of motorcyclists traveled to Fayetteville and other towns in the region last year even though the rally was canceled months in advance over concerns over covid-19.

Sisemore said he suspected most people considering coming were not doing so in protest, but more because horseback riding is a naturally distanced activity. Although there is no main stage in Fayetteville with groups, many people enjoy the area and come for the driving experience, he said.

The board never intended to increase the number of patients treated at hospitals in the region, Sisemore said. The rally planned for outdoor events only, with the presence of medical staff and vaccination clinics, he said.

“Our hearts are with all healthcare workers, nationally and not just locally. This is a global pandemic,” Sisemore said. “I don’t think there’s a way to diminish what they’re going through. It’s an absolute tragedy that the United States as a whole is facing.”

Many on Facebook have questioned the university’s decision to withdraw the deal with Bikes and Blues while staging Razorback football matches that could draw around 70,000 people.

University spokesperson Mark Rushing cited the hospital’s reasoning as the difference. The multi-day festival sees more patients arriving in emergency rooms than football games, and hospitals must recruit additional staff to prepare. There are no additional people for the staff.

Washington Regional “has confirmed that they can meet the needs of a typical game day, but not the needs they typically encounter during the multi-day rally,” Rushing said.

Masks will be required in indoor spaces when social distancing cannot be maintained at Reynolds Razorback Stadium and on Razorback Transit buses to and from the games, he said.

The main stage was to be in Fayetteville, but other events associated with or coinciding with the rally were also planned outside the city. Camping at Parsons Stadium will no longer take place.

For now, it looks like the events at Rogers are still ongoing. Pig Trail Harley-Davidson has its Rally Off Exit 86 scheduled for September 18-26.

The dealership held their event on private property last year when Bikes and Blues canceled. Hundreds of people attended with restrictions set by the state health ministry.

The Rogers Downtown Rotary Club is looking into holding its Frisco Inferno BBQ contest, the official Bikes and Blues barbecue competition, although the festival board does not control it. The event is scheduled for September 25.

The club sees the competition, on South First Street near Railyard Live at Butterfield Stage, as an event for locals and people who will be in town anyway, said Rick McLeod, a club member who helps run the competition. .

“We don’t feel like we’re attracting people to the area, which is an obvious and specific concern. I understand where the medical community is coming from on this,” he said. “Our thought process is that these people are already here, and we’re just having a little barbecue.”

Rogers Downtown Partners is due to host a vintage motorcycle exhibit, also on September 25, in a parking lot west of the Harley-Davidson Pig Trail, said McLeod, chairman of the merchant group’s board.

However, plans could change, McLeod said. The city could still withdraw permission to use public streets for these events, he said.

A spokesperson for Rogers said there had been no change in the schedule for the Railyard Live concerts scheduled for September 24 and 25.

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