Gibsonton will become motorcycle city this weekend, Jan. 15-17, when thousands of bike fans are expected for Gibtown Bike Fest.
“We are the most unique motorcycle rally in the county because we are carnival-themed,” said Kenny Smith, who heads up a team of 150 volunteers who make the event possible. “At no other motorcycle rally can you go ride a Ferris Wheel or see an old-fashioned carnival sideshow.”
The event is courtesy of the International Independent Showmen’s Association. Based in the Gibsonton/Riverview area for almost half a century, the 4,500-member association is a gathering place for many of those who worked traveling carnivals and in the amusement industry over the years.
Started 15 years ago when it drew 1,500 visitors, Bike Fest has grown into one of the state’s major shows for motorcycle enthusiasts and, according to organizers, is unique in the nation as it also features a carnival. Free admission, free parking — there is room on the property for 10,000 cars — and free entertainment, also help.
“We have free parking, admission and shows and are just a laid-back event,” said Smith, a bike enthusiast and chairman of the event for the last two years.
Molly Hatchet headlines this year’s event, taking the stage under the circus big top at 8 p.m. Saturday, Jan 16. There will also be free concerts by the Michael Allman Band, Big Engine and the Soul Circus Cowboys.
Visitors will also have a chance to win two Harley Davidson Fat Boy motorcycles at the show. In addition, the event will feature three different motorcycle daredevil shows.
Funds raised at the show — through sponsorship, vendor fees and food sales — all go to benefit the Showmen’s burgeoning charity work, which sees the group help low-income families throughout Gibsonton and Riverview. Bike Fest comes on the heels of a “best-of-show” circus held last weekend which also raised funds for the Showmen’s favorite charities.
The Showmen’s Shriners Club — with more than 400 members and unique in that it has a worldwide membership — will also help raise funds at the event with a breakfast Saturday and Sunday mornings.
Completely self-financed by members, the Showmen’s Association also helps the underprivileged in the community with its Christmas basket drive resulting in boxes of wrapped gifts and baskets of food. The group also helps local schools with everything from household goods to shoes. The group’s Christmas party drew more than 300 children this year. The association also hosts the Hillsborough County Sheriff’s Senior Citizens Banquet.
The Association, through scholarships and other charity drives, gave out more than $100,000 last year.
A logistical challenge, Smith and his fellow volunteers (there are no paid organizers) don’t waste time when it comes to planning. “We will start planning for next year’s event the day this one ends,” Smith said. “In fact we have already started planning next year. It’s really not a tough job. It’s just a matter of planning.”
For more information on the event, at 6915 Riverview Drive, call 813-677-3590.