May I Propose: The Hollister Rock Rally

Right now, the future of Hollister’s annual Independence Day
motorcycle rally looks mighty iffy. If it gets axed, I’d like to
suggest another event that could possibly become a family-fun way
to draw thousands of people to the South Valley community.
Right now, the future of Hollister’s annual Independence Day motorcycle rally looks mighty iffy. If it gets axed, I’d like to suggest another event that could possibly become a family-fun way to draw thousands of people to the South Valley community.

The motorcycle jamboree revved up about nine years ago to commemorate the historic 1947 “riot” that terrorized the town. Like Morgan Hill with its Mushroom Mardi Gras and Gilroy with its garlic-themed extravaganza, the hometown of the Haybalers finally found an event that brought it local and national fame. Hollister seemed to have at long last found its identity: Biker Town, U.S.A., where the “wild ones” of the world convened to guzzle beer and buy tacky souvenir trash.

But earlier this month, we learned an alarming fact about the annual meeting of the motorcyclists. Major violence almost erupted downtown. Hollister’s Police Chief Jeff Miller told the city council how members of the Hell’s Angels and Mongols biker gangs clashed with each other in confrontations at this year’s event. A potential riot was stemmed when law officers arrived to cool the rising heat between the sworn enemies.

The city’s coffers also annually take a beating from the biker rally. This year, taxpayers shelled out more than $300,000 for public protection from various law enforcement agencies. Last year’s bill came to $565,700.

Public-safety concerns aren’t the whole story, either. Many South Valley residents hate the nonstop noise of motorcycles, traffic congestion and the rowdy behavior of some bikers. They’re also annoyed that the only people who seem to make any money from the event are bars owners and out-of-towners hawking their wares.

Many folks, like me, wonder how Hollister really benefits from the rally. Is whatever regional fame it brings the community worth putting South Valley on a knife-edge with the worry of a massive gang riot breaking out?

Like most local residents, the event’s organizers don’t want any violence. But if this year is an indication, it seems inevitable a day will come when cops can’t arrive in time to control crowds fueled by alcohol. Some incident will trigger the tension between rival biker gangs.

The resulting warfare would make 1947 seem like a kiddie carnival. Hollister would gain some world-wide fame that the city’s chamber of commerce would not be proud to promote in its tourist brochures.

With the future of the Independence Day rally in question, perhaps it’s time to consider an alternative event. Doing a bit of brainstorming, I came up with three proposals I’d like to share.

My first idea is a hay-focused festival. Once upon a time, Hollister was known as the “hay-making capital of the world.” (That’s why the local high school team is called the Haybalers.) Unfortunately, the quaint agricultural title long ago had its heyday. So probably that hay-seed idea is out.

How about apricots, then? Hollister’s orchards once gave the city a regional reputation as “the ‘cot capital.”

Unfortunately, the Central Valley town of Patterson now sits at the center of the apricot world. Patterson has its own popular festival devoted to the golden fruit. I bet the people there probably wouldn’t like Hollister’s competition.

My third idea is my best. How about a rock festival? And when I say “rock,” I quite literally mean rock.

In the 1970s, Hollister dubbed itself “the earthquake capital of the world.” The town experiences so much seismic activity, local promoters created this title. At one point, Hollister gift shops sold mugs and T-shirts that boasted: “It’s My Fault: the San Andreas Fault.”

Locals even discussed holding an earthquake festival to draw tourists. For some reason, that idea never caught on. Probably associating one’s community with the terrors of temblors ain’t exactly conducive to creating confidence for local commerce.

But maybe it’s time to revamp the idea. Maybe geology might be the basis for a festivity to replace the biker rally. It’s a crazy idea, I know, but maybe rocks might be Hollister’s holy grail as a festival attraction.

I’m tentatively calling the event The Hollister Rock Rally. It would focus on the natural wonders of minerals, gems and fossils. With the 100th anniversary of the 1906 San Francisco earthquake coming up, next year would be the perfect occasion to inaugurate this new, geology-focused festival.

“Why rocks?” you ask. Because South Valley has some of the most interesting rocks and geological features around. Look at the Pinnacles. And consider the thousands of geology students who come here to gawk at the cracks in the sidewalks.

Also, consider benitoite. The gemstone is found only in San Benito County. Mineralogists believe it to be the world’s rarest gemstone. Even Sacramento politicians recognized its merit when in 1985, they proclaimed it the official gemstone of California.

The Rock Rally can take place at Hollister’s Dunne Park, which straddles the Calaveras earthquake fault line. Attractions could include an earthquake simulator and rock-climbing walls.

Vendors could peddle interesting rock-themed items such as jewelry and tacky souvenir trash. Food merchants could sell rock candy and – appropriate enough for an earthquake-minded town – milk “shakes.”

The family-focused event would draw the kids because special exhibits of fossils would focus on dinosaurs. Perhaps some of those anima-tronic critters of “Jurassic Park” could be set up in displays to amuse the youngsters.

And live bands – playing 1950s and 1960s-style rock music – would entertain the crowds.

The Hollister Rock Rally? OK, I’ll admit no one has really done anything like it before. And I’ll also admit maybe rocks aren’t exactly as sexy as, say, garlic or mushrooms. But you can’t say I’m not thinking outside the box.

But then again, a rock rally probably wouldn’t cost Hollister as much in dollars and in image as its motorcycle rally. By drawing families instead of gang members, it’d certainly be a whole lot safer.

Few folks years ago thought Gilroy’s Garlic Festival would work. But look at the famous shindig it’s become. Maybe, just maybe, the Hollister Rock Rally might be an idea that really, er, rocks.

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