When one hears the word “biker,” several stereotypical visuals come to mind. Leather jackets. Long beards. Intimidating patches depicting things like skulls, crossbones and knives and guns galore.
Perhaps the last thing the average American thinks when he or she hears the term, however, is “family-friendly.” But that’s precisely how Brian “Big Boy” Whitcomb described events such as Saturday’s “Swap Invasion” held at Southern Devil Harley-Davidson in Cartersville.
“It’s to bring cars, motorcycles, music and families together, older generations to the young ones,” Whitcomb said, “and have a good time celebrating what we believe to be is America.”
Whitcomb — whose company Hot Pan Productions, Inc. operates the Garage71 radio station out of Buford — served as the emcee for Saturday’s festivities, which ran from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.
Yes, amidst all of the vendors one could find the usual biker iconography — lots of references to beer, lots of cigars and lots of apparel adorned with iron crosses — but attendees could also spot quite a few elements (and people) that didn’t quite seem to fit into any of the typical “biker” cliches.
Such as the surf punk entrepreneur hawking organic coffee. Or the merchant ambling between rows and rows of hogs while sporting Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles-branded pajamas. And if you thought the vendor offering free brew was going to be the belle of the proverbial ball, think again: few attractions at Saturday’s event attracted as much foot traffic as the lone Girl Scout Cookies dealer.
But the big draw at the event, surely, were the individual sellers offering miscellaneous bike parts — i.e., the kind of stuff you just can’t waltz into an AutoZone and ask for.
“Swap meets are more for the gearheads, truly that person who likes to work on their own bike — I call it therapy,” Whitcomb said. “It allows some of the guys who have always kept up with a lot of the old nostalgic parts, to bring out those hard-to-find parts. Sometimes they’re brand new, sometimes they’re refurbished. It’s like finding buried treasure sometimes, it’s amazing what you can find out there.”
At the largest swap meets of the type, Whitcomb said it’s not unusual to see as many as 25,000 people swing by.
“On a routine, local level, you’re looking at several hundred people walking through,” he said. “And again, it’s more or less a good excuse to walk around and hunt for that buried treasure … the older engines, the older models, some of the bikes you actually look for whether it’s a knucklehead or a shovelhead engine, this is where you find those parts.”
But events of the sort aren’t just about lug nuts and hot rods. Whitcomb said festivals like Swap Invasion are also suited for those with an interest in “Kustom Kulture” — a sweeping subculture with its own idiosyncratic fashion, artistic and musical styles.
“Kustom Kulture has always tied into the motor-head lifestyle,” he said. “You’ll always have music playing in the background, whether it’s someone from years past like Johnny Cash or Elvis, and you’ve got a lot of great current day bands like Slim and the Gems that are actually relatively local, coming out with some great new music.”
While that type of music comes in several varieties — rockabilly, psychobilly and gothabilly are just a few of its subsets — Whitcomb said the commonality is that most of the tunes are relatively upbeat and positive. And, naturally, the musicians themselves tend to foster a fondness for all things automotively retro.
“Most of the people who play inside one of these bands, they’re a gearhead,” Whitcomb said. “They either have a hot rod themselves or a motorcycle themselves, so it’s just one of those marriages that naturally happens.”
Whitcomb swings by the local Harley-Davidson dealer several times a year. His next major event in Cartersville is an August shindig called “Rockabilly Rumble.”
“We’re bringing some national headliner rockabilly bands, a car show, a bike show, all geared for the family,” he said. “We’ll do some fun things like BMX, drift trikes — the kids are definitely going to have just as much fun as the adults hanging out on their Harley-Davidson.”
Of course, with the Savoy Automobile Museum — complete with its spacious 12,000-square-foot outdoor pavilion for car shows and concerts — opening in about a year or two, Whitcomb said he is champing at the bit over the possibilities.
“I definitely see something happening over at the museum,” he said, “and we would love to be a part of it."