The members of Blue Oyster Cult were all bundled up.
The classic rock group, which has performed since the late 1960s, had expected to be in T-shirts for the final day of the 19th Annual Thunder by the Bay Motorcycle Festival, held for the first time at Lakewood Ranch after years in downtown Sarasota.
But Sunday’s temperatures were in the mid-50s — it felt like the low 40s with the wind chill — and the band had to wear coats, which they had packed for a show in New England.
“This is supposed to be Florida,” guitarist Eric Bloom joked with the crowd when the band came on at 4:30 p.m. “It feels like Maine. We were in Connecticut this morning. It wasn’t much different. But let’s continue with the show. Everyone knows it’s freezing.”
Mid-50s with sunshine and no rain was actually a relief compared to Saturday’s rain and cold.
An estimated 10,000 fans reacted to the weather shift and poured into the Premier Sports Campus off State Road 70 east of Interstate 75 for the free event that benefits Suncoast Charities For Children.
There were about 5,000 motorcycles on the grounds, which shared the spotlight with both Blue Oyster Cult and the highly entertaining and energetic Bobby Friss Band.
But many people said they did not know who was playing and came to see the bikes and check out the vendors, who offered everything from biker leather to Travis Cernoch’s breaded and fried Wisconsin Cheese Curds, called “Good Ones,” which sold briskly for $8 a basket.
To combat the cold, Blue Oyster Cult, behind lead guitarist Buck Dharma, launched into “Golden Age of Leather” early in their set. That got the crowd, most of them wearing biker leather, moving.
“Raise your can of beer on high and seal your fate forever,” the band sang. “Our best years have past us by, The Golden Age of Leather.”
The crowd started grooving, including Carla Etter of Venice, who attended with friend Nadia Quimby.
“In the 70s, I saw them in Lakeland civic center, back in the day,” Etter said of the band, which fans sometimes call BOC.
When asked what drew her to drive from Venice to see the show, Etter said, “The nostalgia of it all. I like the music. It’s kind of classic rock. Well, not totally classic rock. I like it.”
To show the eclectic taste of Blue Oyster Cult fans like Etter, she has grown up to also like smooth jazz, rapper Eminem, Al Jarreau and Barbra Streisand.
“They are a big hit with the age group that Thunder by the Bay is popular with,” Dan Kriwitsky, the MC of the show, said before Blue Oyster Cult went on stage. “When you pull a band out of that era they have a big following.”
Early morning protests in Sarasota
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.
There were definitely raw feelings among some spectators about the festival’s move from Sarasota to Lakewood Ranch.
In fact, there was a protest in downtown Sarasota on Sunday, said Rick Hayberg of SRQ Street Bikers, a sport bike ride group of 600 strong with members from Sarasota and Bradenton.
“We had 42 riders do a three-lap protest ride downtown,” said Hayberg, one of about 30 SRQ members at Thunder.
But Hayberg said he was enjoying himself on the range, if not the bay.
“It’s a different feel here, but it’s all right,” Hayberg added.
Kriwitsky said he respects those who are angry, but he likes Lakewood Ranch.
“Except for Saturday’s weather it was a great venue,” Kriwitsky said. “We have a lot more room for vendors here. I was walking around the grounds earlier taking pictures and video and everyone looks happy. It’s a beautiful facility. Even with all the rain we had, this thing drains great. Motorcycles don’t fall over. The ground is dry, just like that after the rain stops. I don’t have anything against this location at all.”
“I think there are some people that are very unhappy that it was moved from downtown,” Kriwitsky added. “But unless we had assurances we could keep the event there year after year after year, they had to make a move. It was really outgrowing downtown Sarasota, and with all the construction going on it limited the ability to close roads for the event.”