Not long after the Ozzy Osbourne tribute band finished its set, around 4:15 p.m., the sun poked out from behind the clouds for the first time all day.
“Hello Mr. Sun!” one man in the sparse crowd exulted. “I’m sure glad to see you.”
It was still a chilly, windy day but the people who turned out for Saturday’s festivities at the 19th annual Thunder by the Bay motorcycle festival didn’t seem to mind too much.
“I just wish we had a little more clothing,” said Kristiana Dragash, who was there with her husband, Rod, and their 21-month old son, Brody.
Kristiana and Rod Dragash were regulars at Thunder by the Bay for years when it was in held in downtown Sarasota. The festival moved this year to Lakewood Ranch’s Premier Sports Campus, and they’re excited about the move.
“We live in Lakewood Ranch, so it’s great to have it here, because it’s right where we live,” Rod Dragash said. “We welcome this event. I just hope people here are more tolerant than the people in Sarasota.”
He stressed that he wasn’t talking about individuals in Sarasota, but the community and governmental response to the festival.
Thunder by the Bay has drawn tens of thousands of people most years to downtown Sarasota, but new construction, much of it residential, made it harder to have the festival there in recent years, organizers said. Restrictions imposed on the festival by Sarasota’s municipal government exacerbated the difficulties, they said.
We live in Lakewood Ranch, so it’s great to have it here, because it’s right where we live. We welcome this event.
Festival director Lucy Nicandri had been keeping an eye on the weather and knew that Saturday was going to be chilly, and she anticipated that the weather would affect the turnout.
“It’s actually better than I expected,” she said.
Because it’s a transitional year for the festival, she said, her goal was to let people know that Thunder by the Bay could be successful at Lakewood Ranch, and that it could continue to grow there.
“Look at this,” she said. “We’re three times the size. We never could have had this many vendors in Sarasota.”
Running an outdoor festival means you’re going to run into bad weather every once in a while, Nicandri said, and Thunder by the Bay usually has lucked out with great weather. Last year’s festival ran into some heavy rain, and about 10 years ago there was a miserable day of sleet. Other than that, it’s a pretty good record, she said.
Nicandri heads Suncoast Charities for Children, and Thunder by the Bay is one of the organization’s major fundraisers. The nasty weather and the smaller crowd didn’t put much a dent on the fundraising, she said, because most of the money the organization pulls in comes from vendor fees and and sponsorships.
Some of the vendors were less upbeat about the turnout. The Dragashes had hoped to see a friend who was selling apparel at the festival, but by the time they got there, he had packed up and left.
“It’s too cold, and it’s too slow,” Rod Dragash said his friend had told him in text message.
Jesiah Grady of Stuart-based Golden Gate Foods was working a booth that sold steak sandwiches, chicken kebobs and other hot items. Business wasn’t as brisk as he might have hoped, but he said he’d be back Sunday.
“The weather is a factor,” he said. “But it’s kind of local for us, just a couple of hours away. We’ll be back.”
The live music on Saturday came mostly from tribute bands. Nicandri said she likes to book tribute bands because they’re not acts that people can see in their local bars and clubs.
Sunday’s music lineup is headlined by Blue Oyster Cult, one of the biggest-name bands that has ever played Thunder by the Bay.
But music wasn’t the only attraction. Michelle Alatorre and her daughters, Sofia and Olivia, came from St. Petersburg mostly for motorcycle-related events. Olivia rides motorcycles, and she’s a big fan of the Ives Brothers, stunt riders who are performing at the festival. (The move to Lakewood Ranch gave Thunder by the Bay the space to host the nationally known Ives Brothers and other acts.)
People are having a good time and they’re happy.
The Alatorres didn’t mind the weather at all. Michelle Alatorre said she might come back Sunday to see Blue Oyster Cult.
“We just thought, it’s going to be cold, but we’ve dealt with that before,” Sofia Alatorre said.
For Olivia Alatorre, the highlight of the day was was actually meeting the Ives Brothers.
“It was great,” she said. “They were really nice and really cool.”
By 5 p.m., the clouds that had blocked the sun all day long broke up. It was still chilly and breezy, but the sun made the weather seem more pleasant.
“Is this really such a bad day?” Nicandri said. “People are having a good time and they’re happy.”
Thunder by the Bay the concludes Sunday at the Premier Sports campus, 5895 Post Blvd., Lakewood Ranch. Admission is free. For information, go to thunderbythebay.org.
11:15 a.m.: Color guard presentation, national anthem and bike blessing
11:30 a.m.-1 p.m.: Enjoy The Ride (Sugarland tribute)
1:30-3 p.m.: Bobby Friss
4 p.m.-5:30 p.m.: Blue Oyster Cult