Music and Motorcycles: The Best Bands Flock to the Black Hills During the Sturgis Rally | Black Hills Travel Blog

Music and Motorcycles: The Best Bands Flock to the Black Hills During the Sturgis Rally

  • Music and Motorcycles: The Best Bands Flock to the Black Hills During the Sturgis Rally
    Music and Motorcycles: The Best Bands Flock to the Black Hills During the Sturgis Rally
By : 
Bryan Harley

The drumming of thousands of V-twins aren’t the only tunes that will soon be echoing through the Black Hills. Music and motorcycles have always gone together, be it Elvis on his ‘56 Harley KH or Hendrix on his Panhead chopper. It’s a long-term love affair, and for 10 days each summer the Sturgis Rally embraces this affair with open arms as the best bands in the country flock to the Black Hills. The rally has grown into a musical metropolis over the years, and the list of incredible acts scheduled to play at this year’s rally ranks up there with the biggest festivals in the country.  

Because there’s nothing like a live concert, the collective energy of thousands of fans with their hands in the air singing along to every word from the favorite band’s playlist, the recording artists reciprocating with their onstage antics and the auditory assault of their instrument-playing entourage. Add the enthusiastic crowds of the Sturgis Rally to the mix and you’ve got the recipe for memories that last a lifetime.

I know I’ve had more than my share. There’s a picture captured by famed photographer Michael Lichter of Kid Rock in his trademark white suit playing at the Buffalo Chip right at the moment a monstrous bolt of lightning broke through the dark sky in the background. Lichter clicked off the photo at the same time the stage lights illuminated the amphitheater, a sea of faces stretching as far as the eye can see, both the crowd and Kid Rock seemingly defiant against the storm brewing in the distance. I’m one of the faces in the crowd up close to the stage, and it was one of the most electric shows I’ve been to (no pun intended!).

Then there was the time I caught a rockabilly trio from Japan, called MMS when they hopped onstage with their friends from the band The Living Deads at the Bikini Beach stage in an impromptu late night jam. With their slicked-back hair and denim garb, MMS is an anachronism, remnants from the dawn of rock & roll. When they joined the Living Deads’ Symphony Tidwell and Randee McKnight onstage, there was instant chemistry between the bands, an explosion of guitar riffs, drumbeats, and bass. Tidwell attacks her stand-up bass with aplomb like few others and her verve is intoxicating, the elixir extending not only to her bandmates but to those in the crowd as well.

One other show at the rally stands out in my memory as well. I’m a long-time Fleetwood Mac fan but never had the good fortune to catch them in concert. So I was over-the-top excited when I heard Stevie Nicks was performing at the Buffalo Chip. At the time I was working for Motorcycle-USA.com when I captured the experience within this passage:

“The storm ushered in the evening, purple clouds blotting out the sky just over the hill. Boughs bent in the gusts and rattled the leaves in the trees. Pulling into the Legendary Buffalo Chip, pop-up tents rolled across the campground like tumbleweeds before being pinned against the chain link fence. A giant backdrop on stage whipped like a sail before blowing off altogether. Fingers of lightning lit up the horizon, the storm circling the natural bowl of the Chip’s amphitheater while the Bella Donna sang onstage, her black chiffon skirts and blonde hair whipping in the wind as she looked every part a Welsh witch conjuring a storm when she began singing the first lyrics of “Rhiannon.” Old-timers spun their partners as they danced next to their Harleys, the song returning their youth. Others stood mesmerized by Stevie Nicks enchanting voice, unfazed by the threatening thunderstorm or the outside world, for at this moment the magic of Sturgis had once again cast its spell over the Chip.”

I’m sure there’s plenty more magic in store for the rally this year because Sturgis has once again attracted a long list of top-shelf acts. While this list is by no means all-inclusive, I picked out a few noteworthy performances to help you figure out your plan of attack for the 2018 Sturgis Rally.

Michael Ballard and the gang at the Full Throttle Saloon get the party started Sunday, Aug. 5, when Blackberry Smoke takes the stage. These guys put on a phenomenal live show and have a devoted fan base, so the place will certainly be packed. General admission tickets are only $15, but I’ll let you in on a little secret. If you get to the Full Throttle before 6 p.m., concerts are free. If you get there after 6 p.m. you’ll need to buy a ticket, but the ticket comes with a buy one beverage, get one free from the bar along with a 10% discount at the FTS merchandise store. I’ve seen plenty of people sporting FTS t-shirts at various rallies and their merch continues to be popular biker attire. If you’re looking for good old-fashioned, head-bangin' rock & roll, catch Steel Panther at the Full Throttle on Wednesday, Aug. 8. Steel Panther is the consummate party band, so the action will indeed be full throttle that night. But if you can only catch one show out at Ballard’s place, I suggest being there Thursday night for Jackyl. The band’s performance during that time slot has become a rally tradition. Jesse James Dupree will be at his chainsaw-wielding best, as the wild man and lead singer of the band is always in rare form when he performs at the Full Throttle. It’s Dupree’s home turf, after all, because he’s Ballard’s business partner at FTS.  

The Iron Horse Saloon is another venue with a strong lineup this year. They’ve got a great location right off Lazelle Street, so it’s easy for anybody in the Main Street area to ramble over and catch a show. They’ve got multiple stages and best of all their shows are free! The Iron Horse Saloon has added 10 VIP cabanas this year on its new, elevated walkway, which you can rent for $300. They also offer advance purchase VIP seating for $60-90, which includes free drinks at the VIP-only bar, a reserved seat in an elevated seating section next to the stage, and VIP bike parking. The celebration fires up Friday, Aug. 3, with a performance by Black Stone Cherry. Monday night, rally favorites Buckcherry will bring their high-energy act to the Iron Horse. On Wednesday, it’s time to spike up your hair and break out the spandex as long-time LA rockers Faster Pussycat takes center stage.

You’ve got big shoes to fill when you bill yourself as “The Largest Music Festival in Motorcycling.” Luckily, the Buffalo Chip is once again up to the task. Somehow the Chip convinced all of the original members of the Foreigner to reunite for a performance Saturday, Aug. 4. The band will be celebrating the 40th anniversary of its 1978 album “Double Vision.” Two nights later, Lynyrd Skynyrd will take over the Wolfman Jack Main Stage to perform for the last time at the Chip as part of the band’s farewell tour. Skynyrd has been a staple at the Chip for a long time now, endearing themselves to legions of Chipsters, so it’s sure to be an emotionally charged performance. Country music fans, don’t feel left out because Eric Church performs Wednesday, Aug. 8. The following night, Kid Rock is back once again, whose performance blurs the lines between rock, country, and rap. From his backup singers to his band, Rock’s supporting cast is top-notch, and I guarantee it’s going to be a packed house at the Chip Thursday night.

Glencoe Camp Resort is celebrating its 35th anniversary with rally favorite Jasmine Cain performing several nights. Small in stature but big in presence, Cain is a powerhouse on guitar who really knows how to work a crowd, so it’ll be good times out at Glencoe. If you’re just strolling down Main Street, the Loud American Roadhouse and The Knuckle Saloon have a steady rotation of bands. You can also catch live music at Harley-Davidson’s Rally Point on Main Street at various times throughout the rally.

Music, motorcycles, and Sturgis. There’s magic in the Black Hills. Catch a show at the rally and you’ll undoubtedly be swept up in the spell.

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About the Author

Ten days each August, Bryan calls the Black Hills home during the Sturgis Rally. He’s been covering the rally for 10 years thanks to his job as a motorcycle journalist, penning stories for many of the leading magazines. He considers himself very blessed that his job merges two of his passions, riding motorcycles and writing stories. Bryan lives in a small town in Oregon where he and his wife Angelyne raise two kids surrounded by the natural splendors of Oregon.  

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