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June Jam bike rally brings motorcycle enthusiasts together in second year of resurgence

SALISBURY — For Rick Nail, Saturday was like one big family reunion.

“I call this a bike show, swap meet and a family reunion, because you see people that you only might see once or twice a year,” Nail said.

The 71-year-old biker was one of hundreds of motorcycle enthusiasts — many of them tattooed, bearded or both — who flooded the Rowan County Fairgrounds on Saturday for the June Jam bike rally. The all-day affair featured vendors of all varieties, lively competitions and plenty of tricked-out bikes. 

June Jam continues today, with gates opening at 10 a.m. and closing at 4 p.m.

Participating in this year’s June Jam was special for Nail because he’s the one who originally started the event in 1990.

Inspired by pictures of his parents riding motorcycles, the Rowan County native started riding as a young adult and has continued ever since. Nail served as the president of the Concerned Bikers Association for 21 years and still helps the organization host events in the spring and fall at the fairgrounds every year.

In order to cover the costs needed to host the first June Jam, Nail asked his father for a small loan. Nail’s father obliged, and was happy when the event was a success and he got more than his investment back. Over the next 17 years, June Jam became a staple summer event at the fairgrounds for bikers from near and far. 

“The first couple of years of the original June Jam were really slow, but then we really got a good following of people who came,” Nail said.

June Jam took a one-year hiatus in 2008, but the pause ended up lasting for 12 years. It likely would’ve likely lasted longer. Then Garrett Barger approached Nail with the idea of restarting the event last year.

Barger, who organizes the Carolina Bohemian Jam at the fairgrounds each fall, is no stranger to putting together large gatherings. However, he’s not a motorcycle rider himself. So, getting Nail’s blessing and support was paramount.

“I’m all about events,” Barger said. “It doesn’t matter to me what type of event it is or crowd it is. If I see a need there, I’ll bring it in. But I’m smart enough to know that I partner with people who are experts in that field. When I saw a need to bring a bike event back, I went to (Nail) and said ‘Let’s do this together.’”

The plan was to host the event when it was typically held — in June. But COVID-19 forced Barger to postpone it until August. Although plenty of bikers attended the first June Jam in over a decade, Barger said it wasn’t even comparable to the crowd that flocked to the fairgrounds Saturday.

Along with bike lovers, the fairgrounds were filled with vendors selling hotdogs, hamburgers, cigars, shot glasses, hats, gutters and even lawn ornaments.

The event was billed as a swap meet, which means there was no shortage of merchants hawking assorted motorcycle parts or offering on-site bike upgrades. Andrew Whitington, who rode over from Statesville, decided to get his 2020 Harley-Davidson Street Glide Special fitted with LED lights by James Wilt, the owner of Big Dog’s Custom LED lighting. Wilt travels to motorcycle rallies across the country, helping bikers light up their rides.

Whitington, who has been riding off and on for several years, said June Jam was the first bike rally he’s attended. It likely won’t be his last.

“It’s been fun,” Whitington said. “I like being around all these bikes, looking at the parts people are selling and meeting new people.”

A sizable crowd gathered under a white tent to watch several competitions, including a contest to see who had the best beard and the top tattoo. A bikini and wet T-shirt competition were also part of the 21-and-older festivities. Today’s event is open to all ages, Barger said, and will only feature family friendly entertainment.

There was also a live musical performance from the band Fair Warning and, of course, a bike show to determine which choppers were the cream of the crop.

Ted Rary was one of three judges responsible for picking the winners of the competition. Rary, who said he’s been riding motorcycles for almost six decades, scored the bikes in nine different categories, including paint, originality and construction. His strategy for picking the best bikes was simple.

“I judge ’em like I see ‘em,” said Rary, who admitted he has a special affection for older models.

Rary assessed Saturday’s contenders, which featured everything from barely broken in Harleys to vintage Shovelheads, to be of both good variety and quality.

While June Jam is inherently about motorcycles, Nail said the event is more about the people who ride them.

“If it wasn’t for motorcycles, I wouldn’t have met a lot of great people,” Nail said.

Barger said he plans on continuing to expand June Jam for years to come and hopes to once again make the motorcycle rally and show a staple event.

“It takes about five years to really build an event,” Barger said. “We’ll grow it to where it needs to be.”

Admission for today’s June Jam festivities is $5. More information can be found online at www.junejambikerally.com.

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