Full Throttle Saloon goes nationwide
By Chad Cooper,
Michael Ballard has always been a motorcycle enthusiast but the Tennessee native never thought in his wildest dreams it would lead him to something so big, that it would attract hundreds of thousands in less than two weeks per year.
Ballard is the owner of the Full Throttle Saloon, which is the go to place during the annual 10-day Sturgis Motorcycle Rally in Sturgis, South Dakota. The Sturgis Rally dates back to 1938 and now has grown into the Super Bowl of all bike rallies. More than 600,000 bike lovers show up in a town that resides just under 7,000 residents.
If you never been to Sturgis or you don’t care for motorcycles, Full Throttle Saloon will quickly change your mind. Called the world’s largest biker bar, the FTS sits on 300 acres and is open just 10 days out of the year, which is early August during the Sturgis Rally.
The FTS features great live music, bike shows, free tattoos, midget wrestling, zip line rides, burnout pits, mechanical bulls, plenty of food and voluptuous bartenders makes the FTS a show within itself.
Some of the bands that have played the FTS stage in the past including Theory of a Deadman, Kenny Wayne Shepherd, Molly Hatchet, Ted Nugent and Jackyl, who perform every year.
In fact, Jackyl singer Jesse James Dupree is one of Ballard’s business partners and books all the live entertainment. Ballard’s fiancé, Angie Carlson, has her own section at FTS called Angieland, where visitors can take a picture with her posterior, which is rumored to be the most photographed posterior in the world.
The FTS became a self-titled reality show on TruTV and is amidst its third season shown every Wednesday night at 8 p.m. (Central Time).
88MW caught up with Ballard as he prepares for the next rally in August. To see the FTS online visit fullthrottlesaloon.com.
When did you come a fan of motorcycles?
My grandparents bought me an old 70 motorcycle back when I was probably 9 years old. It was probably a mistake for my mom to let me have it. The love for them then took off.
When did you first experience the Sturgis?
I’ve been going to Daytona Bike Week since 1990 and a friend of mine kept telling me I needed to go to Sturgis. So I went for the first time in 1999 and fell in love with it and bought 30 acres of land up there about a month later. I went back home and packed and moved up there and started building the bar. A year later, 2000, we opened Full Throttle Saloon.
What was the original vision once you bought the property?
I built bikes all my life but I have always been intrigued by the bar business and I wanted to put those two together. I knew what I was looking for and I wanted to something big plus I love music as well. So my vision was a biker bar and concert venue.
From what I see on television, it’s looks like an amusement park.
It sits on 30 acres. I usually host 15,000 per day and have 300 employees and have 100 bartenders. There also three stages of music going throughout the day with anything from cover bands to full-blown national acts.
So how many people does FTS attract during its 10 days of business?
We average about 50,000 people through the doors each day. We open at 6 a.m. in the morning with an all you can eat breakfast buffet. Sturgis is a small town with a population of about 6,000 people but during those 10 days each year, you have about 600,000 that show up. They don’t have the facilities to house everybody because there are not many hotels. Most people stay in campgrounds and right across the street from us is Glencoe Campgrounds, which houses about 30,000. These people line up at six in the morning to eat breakfast. They ride all day, then hit the bars at night.
What separates FTS from the other venues in Sturgis?
One of my favorite things about the Full Throttle is the fact it’s not segregated by anything. You can see a guy who is 21 years old sitting at the bar having a drink with someone that is 65 and they got something in common — riding motorcycles. Across America, bars are segregated by age, race and style. You look over and one guy might me staying in a $1 million Prevost bus and right next to him may be a guy in a pop-tent and they are hanging out and riding motorcycles together. It’s a cool thing to see.
How did the partnership with TruTV come about?
Jesse and I had actually been trying to get a show forever. We are so on edge so a lot of the networks wouldn’t take us. With TruTV, they wanted all the edgy crazy stuff so it’s a perfect fit.
So everything you see is real-life and not scripted?
The first episode of this season received the best rating of the previous two season premieres and I’m real humbled by that. One of the things that allows this show to be so successful is the fact that none of us are actors, plus the production is awesome. They have 50 people on site and seven camera crews running about 20 hours a day. So you multiply that times 10 days and you get thousands of hours worth of footage. With so much going on, we don’t have to create anything, it’s organically already there.
It seems like a lot to put on your shoulders.
It’s very stressful but I love what I am doing. I’m around motorcycles, hot chicks and rock and roll music. I move out there in May to start getting the property ready for the rally in August. Two weeks before we open, we are already working 20 hours per day before the cameras get there. It’s challenging, but I love it.
What’s next for FTS?
It’s amazing what has taken off from the brand that was established 12 years ago. We have some blueprints to take Full Throttle Saloon nationwide. Our goal is to start franchises in different cities.