Thunder on the Rock bike rally, festival returns to Monteagle

photo Rock band 38 Special will headline Thunder on the Rock in Monteagle, Tenn., this weekend.
photo Big Engine is, from left, Ryan Wilcox (bass/backing vocals), Tony Mikus (lead vocals, guitar), Samantha Jo Bishop (drums) and Hans Oellerich (lead guitar, backing vocals).

IF YOU GOWhat: Thunder on the Rock bike rally and concertWhen: 8 a.m. Friday, May 24, to 1 p.m. Monday, May 27 (all times Central)Where: 518 Brawley Road, Monteagle, Tenn.Admission: $60 general admission ($40 support vehicles, $300 for RVs)Phone: 423-290-2166Artist Website: www.thunderontherock.netArtist Website: www.bigengine.comNote: Must be 18 or older with valid ID to enterON THE BILL• Big Engine• 38 Special• The Kentucky Headhunters• Fifth Street Saints• Audio Outlaws• Stone & Sunshine• Legacy• Stoneline• Zach Dylan & D-Railed• Sinner of AttentionBIKE PARADEOn Saturday, May 25, Thunder on the Rock will host a motorcycle parade honoring military veterans. Bikers will need to line up at the festival grounds at 9 a.m. CDT. The parade begins at 9:30 and will continue through the city of Monteagle.

After touring for 16 years, the Southern hair-metal outfit Big Engine finally started firing on all cylinders, but the surge of forward momentum was really the result of looking back.

The turning point came with the band's 2007 album, "Rock-N-Roll Machine," or more specifically, the song "Come Home," says guitarist Hans Oellerich, who joined Big Engine in 1995.

"For us, [that song] was about returning to what made you fall in love with music in the first place," he says. "That set the tone for the record.

"Our mission since then has been to remain true to that made us fall in love with music."

Big Engine's music is, by and large, rooted in playing hard, anthemic rock about enjoying life, a simple message that has helped the band develop a national following, especially among what Oellerich describes as "blue-collar types." Playing music to help that audience relax and blow off steam also has made Big Engine a regular fixture at biker-centric events such as the Sturgis Rally and Monteagle's Thunder on the Rock, where the band will return for its fifth appearance this weekend.

"I'm glad to be back here," Oellerich says. "Monteagle and that whole area has been really good for us."

Big Engine's sound is a blend of Poison-esque hair metal and the Southern-fried, guitar rock of Lynyrd Skynyrd and Molly Hatchet. Given Big Engine's origins in northern Florida, the latter band was bound to find its way into the musical mix, Oellerich says.

"My father was in a band in high school with the lead guitarist of 38 Special," he says. "We all were around this thing, and it couldn't help but rub off on us."

Even after a decade and a half of spinning the odometer on the way to 200 annual shows, Oellerich says it's difficult to imagine growing tired of his lifestyle.

Big Engine is a band that writes about what it knows, and creating music about loving life isn't difficult when thousands of people are pumping their fists in the air and singing along to your songs every night, he explains.

"It definitely reaffirms you and gives you a good reason to keep going," Oellerich says. "That's a big part of it, connecting with people - and getting our musical rocks off. I wouldn't want to be doing anything other than playing music for a living."

Contact staff writer Casey Phillips at or 423-757-6205. Follow him on Twitter at @PhillipsCTFP.