Along with Thunder in the Valley come thousands of leathered bikers with grizzled, twisted beards and tattoos to make your grandmother faint. For 10 years, the local chapters of the Alliance of Bikers Aimed Toward Education (ABATE) have packed them all into Greenhouse Park for what’s now called “Thunderbash.”
The rumor mill may suggest that all that gasoline and light beer in such a small area could become a powder keg of debauchery and drunken fisticuffs. But what really happens after the sun goes down at Greenhouse Park’s “best adult party in town”?
More conservative members of the community might wag fingers at the thought of all those enthusiasts with their “bad biker rap” – people like Trista Critchfield’s parents.
Critchfield says her folks told her “people have sex on their bikes.”
They warned her against her first Thunderbash experience with J.J. Tims, who’s been coming since he turned 21. Both Tims and Critchfield are in their twenties.
Tims said he isn’t sure where this negative perception comes from.
“I have no idea. I’ve been coming here (and) I haven’t seen anything bad,” he said.
“I’ve never even seen a fight here,” he added, addressing another concern of Critchfield’s parents.
Randy Hochstein is the vice president of the ABATE Somerset chapter and has coordinated Thunderbash in its past five years.
“What it comes down to is it’s a private party,” he said.
“It’s pretty much bands, food and party.”
But in regards to the above video and its “PG” rating, Hochstein seemed a little doubtful it could be pulled off.
“Yeah, good luck with that,” he said.
There is a notable police presence – fire police directing traffic at the front gate and officers strolling the thoroughfare, possibly piqued by such a choice assignment – but Hochstein said they’ve rarely, if at all, had to jump in and keep the peace.
“Any incidents we’ve had here were very minor,” he explained.
Hochstein said the bands wrap up at midnight due to amplifier laws, and the beer tents give last call at 2 a.m., just like any bar. But this is when the wet T-shirt contest will soak the mainstage – a “no T-shirt” contest, depending on who you ask.
“Hot chicks, cold beer, rock and roll – doesn’t get no better,” said John Krzysko of Dale, a Thunderbash vet. “It’s a biker party, so you’re going to have that.”
The stage faces away from the adjacent Route 403, and Hochstein said a sheet placed on the stage keeps the wilder side of Thunderbash hidden from the campsites.
“The only way you (would) be exposed to it is if you want to be,” he added.
And as regular Thunderbash goers will say, when the rumbling surrounds the otherwise tranquil campground and hundreds roll in after downtown peters out, the party really begins. But Hochstein’s air of preparedness is almost nonchalant.
“They love to have fun,” he said with a sly grin.