COLUMBIA — The radio in Rozell "Breeze" Nunn's hand confirmed it.
"There's a line out to the highway back on gate three," a voice crackled.
As predicted, more motorcyclists and attendees were arriving on Thursday evening, the first night of live entertainment at the National Bikers Roundup. The roundup is expected to be busiest Friday and Saturday evenings; the event wraps up on Sunday.
Riding in his golf cart, waving and acknowledging the shouts of greeting that came his way, Nunn navigated the swelling crowd that moved through the Boone County Fairgrounds on foot and on motorcycles. He dodged kiosks and RVs and handled the radio calls with an expert hand. Founder of the National Bikers Roundup, Nunn has been doing this for 33 years.
That a modest camp-out for African-American motorcycle clubs in the Kansas City area has expanded into a national event drawing thousands of people is a pleasure to him.
"It makes me feel like a king," said Nunn, president of the Atlanta chapter of the Zodiacs, a club he's been in since 1972.
Some attendees looking at vendors' booths as the sun went down wore the clothes of the biking culture: vests with patches identifying their motorcycle club, their chapter and their role within that chapter — secretary or sergeant-at-arms or another office.
"Right now I'm patchless, but that's OK," said Brittni Perry, sipping from an unusually tall translucent orange glass.
Perry of Lansing, Mich., is identified as P1; the p stands for probation. Riders usually have to go through a period in which they are evaluated by members on their dedication to the club. The club Perry is vying to join, The Street Riders, requires a 90-day probation during which prospects are expected to attend the club's meetings and biker events and show respect to established club members. She is 30 days away from receiving a biker name.
Perry had never driven a motorcycle before last week and said it has been the most exhilarating experience of her life. "Whatever you were worrying about or thinking about in your life is gone," she said.
The national secretary of The Street Riders, known as "Qpid," stood nearby trying on helmets. Qpid and Perry are from the Lansing chapter of The Street Riders, a co-ed club. Qpid said her job is to keep track of every new member the club recruits, including when they started. She said that after the roundup, the club plans to visit its chapter in Dayton, Ohio.
"The heat is killing us. The flies are killing us," Qpid said. "We're not used to this. We're from Michigan."
In the background, the sound of music and motorcycles melded, a steady rumbling with tunes weaving in and out.
Motorcycles moved freely among the vending area and even into the outdoor concert arena. "Be aware," a sign read. "Motorcycles are everywhere."
A couple sitting on their motorcycle near the front of the stage identified themselves as "Lady Ryder" and "Chilly Willy" Hicks, Army retirees from Fort Knox, Ky., and members of The Iron Soldiers. The couple of 15 years came to the roundup by way of Seattle, arriving at 1 a.m. Monday. This is their 24th roundup.
"Partying and riding our bikes," Lady Ryder, vice president of her chapter, said, "that's what it's all about. We need the party, we need our bikes, and we need to have a town to support us so that we can support them in revenue."
Phil "Rat" Prince, a rider of 22 years, sat in the crowded concert area on his motorcycle while a band onstage played the blues. Prince, a member of the Flint, Mich., chapter of The Buffalo Soldiers for about three months, said he's been enjoying camping, barbecuing and meeting people from other states.
"Tomorrow, I will shop," he said. "I like to wait until toward the end of the event to make purchases."