Almost a year ago, Donnie Moser married his wife Chimona, in a Little River chapel.
The Mosers, along with 10-year-old Makayla and a few other family members and friends from church, were back in the Myrtle Beach area Saturday, this time dipping their toes in the Atlantic Ocean before joining the revelry on the main street in Atlantic Beach.
They planned to head back to Monroe, North Carolina, by late Saturday night.
What has become an annual trip for the past five years is part vacation, part birthday celebration for Chimona, part pilgrimage to the Atlantic Beach Memorial Day Bikefest.
“It’s wonderful,” Donnie Moser said of Bikefest while encouraging his daughter to go into the ocean while reminding her, like a good father would, how much easier it would have been to have worn her bathing suit. “It gives people something to do other than being out on the streets.”
If anyone’s wondering why Atlantic Beach officials didn’t consider shutting down Bikefest after a year-long controversy began following Memorial Day weekend 2014, tourists like the Mosers are why.
They make their way to the town every year and spend money, the only weekend of the year Atlantic Beach can rely upon a steady portion of the Myrtle Beach area’s 17.2 million tourists.
There were plenty of others like them in the four-block town on Saturday, an open air, street party familiar to the one I experienced in downtown Darlington a couple of weeks ago and in Harvard Square while I lived in the Boston area. The difference is that in those other places, the music was more likely to be improvised country or specialized cover bands.
In Atlantic Beach, music by Kool & the Gang and rap pioneer Kurtis Blow blared through loudspeakers while an elderly man in a white hat and white suit selling cassette tapes belted out live old-school gospel favorites and a DJ from a sound stage talked about it being a non-stop 72-hour “grown folks block party.”
Cuban food and giant turkey legs were being sold next to vendors hawking Bob Marley T-shirts, leather biker vests, jewelry, drinks served in real pineapples and Italian Ice and fried fish. Small groups of (mostly) women in bikinis or short-shorts danced to the delight of onlookers. An artist was busy painting a live portrait of a Bikefest participant from under a tent that also held sketches of President Obama, iconic former hip hop stars Biggie Smalls and Tupac Shakar, and tennis great Serena Williams.
People milled around with a kind of relaxed stroll, reminding me of days growing up when my family and I would visit the Hell Hole Swamp Festival just on the other side of Georgetown or the Ladson Fair in the Charleston area. Only in Atlantic Beach there were no rides — unless a lone mechanical bull counts — the relaxed stroll itself, with occasional stops to gawk at colorful high-powered motorcycles, is the main attraction.
Saturday in Atlantic Beach was Bikefest in its truest form, illustrating a rally founded about 35 years ago by a group of bikers who shared a common love.
It’s the part of Bikefest many Grand Strand residents never see because of endless, pointless debate, hyperbolic fear and overblown predictions about stifling traffic.
“Any time I talk about coming back, my wife gets excited and says, ‘Oh, let me call my friend. We are going to the beach,’” Donnie Moser said. “The best part is just getting out enjoying the breeze and the views.”