The deep rumble of motorcycles joins with the blues riffs of horns for a noisy symphony on this busy street. It’s Bike Night on Beale Street in Memphis, where folks come to see and be seen — with or without motorcycles.
At one end of Beale is 77-year-old Marvin Shackelford, lounging near his 2005 red, white and blue Harley. How long has he been riding?
“I started riding in 1947,” he said. “I’ve had more bikes than I can remember.”
At the other end of Beale, 2-year-old Carson Dabney is making heads turn by taking his first-ever cruise down Beale on a tiny chopper. “He kept saying he wanted to come over here so here we are,” his Dad said, keeping a close watch on the youngster.
Bike Night on Beale Street has been going on for about 10 years, every Wednesday from April through September. “It’s a lot of fun, said Cody Workman. “Probably about 1,000 motorcycles show up.”
“Not really,” Cody said, standing at the entrance to barricaded Beale. As a Beale Street Greeter, Cody is welcoming bikers and handing them a brief sheet of rules, including a ban on wearing gang colors. “People are just here to have a good time, and they are mostly all gone by midnight.”
For Mike Johnson, it’s a chance to ride into downtown Memphis after work, enjoy some music, meet friends and swap bike stories.
“I’ve been doing this ever since it started, and I’ve been riding a Harley for a lot longer than that,” he said, standing beside a blue and gold beauty. “It’s like watching a big parade go by.”
Sponsored by the Beale Street Merchants Association, the weekly Bike Night draws visitors on a weeknight that is generally slow.
Motorcyclists begin showing up around 6 or 7 p.m. and traditionally take a cruise down Beale for a favorite parking spot. Some of them take several cruises.
Bikes get parked on both sides of Beale. Riders often stand or sit by their bikes and watch all the action. Some bikers saunter up and down the street, have a bite and a drink.
It’s a good way to see the newest and the oldest in motorcycles. For Cyndi Bronson of Arizona, the mass motorcycle meeting was a total surprise. Cyndi was on her way to Nashville to visit her daughter when she pulled into Memphis.
“I had never been to Memphis and I never knew about this,” she said, perched on her shiny black Harley. A biker for 38 years, Cindi said she quickly changed her travel plans to enjoy the evening on Beale.
Watching over all the commotion from one end of Beale Street is a statue of “The King of Rock ’n’ Roll.” With his guitar slung over his chest, his legs arched and his feet on their toes, Elvis Presley seems ready to rock.
A few blocks down Beale, W.C. Handy gazes toward the heavens, holding his horn at ready for a song to stir the angels. Clustered around the statue of the “Father of the Blues” is a group of musicians and music lovers on this hot Memphis night.
As Handy once said about his adopted hometown, “The Seven Wonders of the World I have seen, and many places I have been. Take my advice, folks, and see Beale Street first.”
Photos by Jackie Sheckler Finch