Bikes, Blues & BBQ postpones 2021 rally

Photo: Clayton Taylor

Bikes, Blues & BBQ officials have announced that the 2021 motorcycle rally will be postponed.

Rally director Tommy Sizemore announced the move in a press release issued to the media on Thursday night, and later posted on the rally’s Facebook page.

The announcement came after University of Arkansas officials sent a notice to rally officials stating that it’s in “the best interest of the community” that a licensing agreement to use university property to stage elements of this year’s rally be revoked.

The event’s main stage was set to be constructed at Baum-Walker Stadium on the university’s campus in south Fayetteville for this year’s rally Sept. 22-25.

“At this time Bikes, Blues and BBQ organizers do not feel they can offer a quality event with such massive changes on such short notice,” Sizemore said. “We will be postponing the event at this time.”

The University of Arkansas, Bikes, Blues & BBQ, and city officials all received a letter from Washington Regional Medical Center Chief Medical Officer David Ratcliff earlier this week urging officials to postpone the event because of concerns over hospital capacity, and the considerable amount of trauma support typically needed to support the annual motorcycle rally.

“Historically, our hospital has ramped up our emergency department and trauma staff to cover BB&B related cases,” Ratcliff wrote in the letter. “We simply don’t have the luxury of doing that this year. All our available staff are already working way beyond normal capacities to deal with the pandemic surge.”

Ratliff first sent the letter to Fayetteville Mayor Lioneld Jordan and Public Health Officer Marti Sharkey on Wednesday, but city officials said they did not have any authority over the rally this year since the event was not occurring on public property.

The event usually locates its main stage in the West Avenue parking lot across from the Walton Arts Center, but that area is set for construction of the new cultural arts corridor project.

Hospital officials later sent the same letter to the university, the City of Rogers, and Bikes, Blues & BBQ officials.

The city’s Board of Health discussed the letter on Wednesday, and also sent a letter to UA and rally officials on Thursday urging the postponement or cancellation of the event.

Washington Regional COO Birch Wright told health board members that the hospital’s main concerns, again, were over the increased capacity for trauma support that would be needed as a result of the motorcycle rally.

“The concern is not so much COVID, although that is an extreme concern especially two weeks after 200-300,000 people leave,” he said. “The bigger concern is trauma, and health care resources that these folks need when they come into town.

“I met with our ER team and our physicians earlier this week, and just for some background, we deploy an extra group of folks every time we have this annual event. We pull the numbers, we see how many traumas come in, we see how many intoxicated come in, those that get into fist fights, and those that get into accidents on the interstate. And I think most of you are aware of the criticality of where we are right now in our workload.”

When asked how the the rally is different than other large gatherings like university football games and other events, Wright said Bikes, Blues & BBQ is different because of its sheer size, and because of the nature of the event that includes a need for more trauma support from the hospital.

“We don’t see nearly the amount of emergency room visits and the types of traumas (from other events),” he said. “Obviously if you have 70,000 folks at a football game when it’s 110 degrees, you are going to have some heat exhaustion and heat stroke, but directly, it’s much more resource intensive and labor intensive for Bikes, Blues & BBQ and that subset of folks than you would see for, say, a Razorback football game.”

There are currently 115 patients in ICU beds in NWA, he said, and the hospital has averaged around 123 patients in ICU beds over the last week.

“I totally understand the economic impact, I totally support Bikes, Blues & BBQ, I enjoy it myself, but I have to be a good community steward, and when folks come to town, in-town folks or folks from out of town, we’ve got to be there for them and take care of their healthcare, and if the numbers stay the way the are, we aren’t going to be able to do that.”

Wright said in the last week, he has seen patients transferred as far away as Chicago and North Carolina.

“Every hospital system in NWA has had to divert or delay (care) in some form or fashion today,” he said. “What that means is, if you come to the hospital we are going to take care of you, but you may have to wait, and there may not be a bed after we take care of you.

“That’s just where we are, and the surrounding region doesn’t have the capacity either.”