Organizer revved up for ‘Thunder’

HOPE — When thunder rolls into Hope on Saturday, it’ll trigger a small storm of excitement.

So hopes Matt Lee, the organizer of the first-ever Thunder On the Square, featuring a biker cruise-in that, with the help of ABATE Indiana, could draw 2,000 people and nearly as many bikes.

The free event on the historic Hope Town Square begins at 6:30 p.m. Saturday with food booths, community vendors, live music and more.

Lee is executive director of Main Street of Hope, which is the main organizer of the event with support from other agencies such as the Columbus Area Visitors Center and businesses such as Jeff’s Lawn Care and Julian’s Lawn Care. Lee also is lead singer of the local Night Owl Country Band slated to perform at 7 p.m., and also is known as something of an event entrepreneur.

He has organized everything from sold-out country concerts with the two former stars of television’s classic show “The Dukes of Hazzard” to a hugely popular appearance at last fall’s Hope Heritage Days by reality TV star Turtleman.

“I just think that one of my niches is promotion,” Lee said.

Hope Town Manager Jason Eckart conceived of the idea to present some sort of motorcycle-oriented event. But Eckart and Lee agreed that a traditional motorcycle ride would generally send bikers out of Hope than into town. So the cruise-in is meant to bring them in while Hope’s restaurants and some merchants will be open later.

David Howell, a regional representative for ABATE Indiana, will man a membership booth at the gathering. He said on Wednesday that an ABATE Indiana online page showed that nearly 800 bikers either were probably attending or seriously considering doing so.

“Motorcyclists aren’t always very good at making plans,” Howell said. “They often don’t know for sure what they’re going to do when they wake up in the morning.”

Besides Night Owl Country Band, entertainment also will include headlining singer Jesse Keith Whitley, son of country singer Lorrie Morgan and late country singer Keith Whitley. Lee mentioned that his group’s set list will include a broad mix of original tunes such as “Country to the Bone” and covers.

Lee mentioned that he hopes to make the event an annual happening.