Sturgis’ annual bike rally returned from a lengthy hiatus Thursday night with a kick-off party in Louisville and will continue through Sunday morning.
City leaders and organizers could not find common ground on how to finance the event in previous years, rally organizer Donny Hanson said, which led to numerous failed attempts to re-launch it. Soaring entertainment costs of the past put organizers in the red financially, he said, and an uptick in armband costs led to fewer and fewer attendees.
Looking back, Hanson said local politics prevented both sides from reaching a mutually beneficial financing agreement in the past three years, but now new aldermen and organizers agreed to terms that will help continue to bring tourism spending back to Sturgis and Oktibbeha County.
“Our rally board has stuck together over these past years. We put forth a good-faith effort each year to keep the rally going, but after the election there were more leaders in favor of getting the event back,” he said. “We have an agreement worked out now to make ends meet where we both can survive. We both cut our budgets back, split up the bills and lowered vendor permits. (Rally organizers) are now getting a bit more income off vendors and RV rentals as a compromise so we can step up and fund the event.”
Due to the better financial footing, Hanson said armbands, which are required for entertainment areas, are slashed 50 percent from the last event’s $40 price tag.
“We’ve heard through social media and by word of mouth that a lot of people have missed the rally and they’re coming back. We don’t expect it to be as big as it was when we stopped in 2010, but we’re still expecting a good crowd,” he said. “A lot of campers, bikers and vendors are already here. Things are really starting to pick up.
“If 1,000 people showed up, I’ll be happy,” Hanson added. “If it’s 2,000, I’ll be ecstatic.”
Although a smaller crowd is expected than in previous years, visitors still make an economic impact within Sturgis and Oktibbeha County. Tourists will spend money at the event, and some are expected to shop in Starkville and utilize the city’s hotels during four days of events.
Rally events began last night in Louisville with a dinner and entertainment from musician Payton Taylor and the Jason Miller Band. An afternoon ride will take motorcyclists from Sturgis at 4 p.m. today down Highway 12 to a dinner outside of Starkville at Clayton Village. The ride will continue from Starkville down Highway 25 to Louisville, detour to Ackerman and head back to Sturgis about 7:30 p.m.
Concerts in Sturgis are scheduled to begin about 7:30 p.m. today and will feature Full Circle and Taylor as the headlining act.
The rally will open 8 a.m. Saturday with a bike show following at 9 a.m. Organizers will rename a pavilion in honor of Jody James, whom the rally honored since its inception. Musical act Southern Halo will perform about 7:30 p.m., and headliner Jason Miller Band will take stage about 10:30 p.m.
A service blessing the bikes and bikers will conclude the weekend event at 9 a.m. Sunday.
Carl Smith covers Starkville and Oktibbeha County for The Dispatch. Follow him on Twitter @StarkDispatch