Rodeo Houston Fun

Go Texan with this guide.

It's the time of year when otherwise urban Houstonians take to the streets in ten-gallon hats, plaid shirts and spurred boots, all for the sake of celebrating a spontaneous eruption of Texan culture. With all the food and fun of a state fair and all the nonstop equine action of a western, Rodeo Houston has returned.

Houston Rodeo says "thanks!" to military personnel.

For one particular day every rodeo season, a big portion of the crowd is in uniform. This year it's February 27. Started back in 2008, the day known as Armed Forces Appreciation Day was created by Robin Young Ellis, a dedicated volunteer, in hopes of honoring military men and women by treating them to a day of fun, free of charge.

"She's a self-described military brat, and her husband, Joe, is a retired major from the Marine Corps," says Paul Lehnhoff, show vice president and officer in charge of the Armed Forces Appreciation Committee. "It's what gave her the vision and the passion to start something called 'A Salute to our Troops.'"

After its inception, interest and support for the project grew until, four years later, the military-themed event had 130 volunteers and its own committee. "It's kind of become a committee everyone wants to be on," Lehnhoff explains. "It gives us an opportunity to show our appreciation, and honoring the troops just seems to come natural to Texans."

And so, on Armed Forces Appreciation Day, 3,500 active-duty troops from every service, as well as their loved ones and plenty of veterans, are invited to take part in the festivities.

First they have a private barbecue at the Hideout, where they get to meet ropers, clowns and Texans cheerleaders before heading off to a special welcoming ceremony. And, in acknowledgment of the day, the concert and rodeo festivities all include an extra nod to the U.S. military, whether it be a flyover by a Navy F18, an Army servicewoman singing the national anthem, a mounted Marine color guard or an Air Force rappel team climbing their way down onto the stadium floor with the American flag in hand. Even the kids involved in that evening's Mutton Bustin' — an event where children ages five to six try their hands at staying on a wild and unruly sheep's back — will be military dependents.

While the program is meant especially for the men and women in uniform, other guests are asked to dress up in red, white and blue to participate in the day's theme of patriotism and support.

After the show and concerts, the fun always moves to the fairgrounds, where hundreds of brave, selfless and exceedingly well-trained military personnel go on the attack — against the carnival games.

"Maybe it's because they have more discipline than the general public, but they do seem to do well over there," Lehnhoff chuckles. "It's kind of cool to see a big, strapping soldier carrying around a pink teddy bear."

The kids get a chance to shine in the Rodeo Rockstar Competition.

Kids have always made major contributions to the entertainment at the Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo, doing everything from painting pictures to showing their rabbits, pigs and cows, and roping calves. These days, however, they also bring reality TV's finest to the Kid's Country Stage as they compete for a chance to jump-start singing careers.

Rodeo RockStar, as it's called, made its debut last year as a way to bring in the younger demographics and, of course, their friends and family. First, an amateur singer posts an audition video on YouTube for the consideration of potential fans. Then, the ten kids in both the junior and youth age groups (six to 15 and 16 to 21 respectively) who receive the most votes get invited to the Rodeo to perform for a live audience.

Once there, the kids give the best performances they can before a group of judges. And if it's anything like last year, the contestants come in all varieties. "They can be groups or individuals, and we have a very diverse mix of music," Elizabeth Greer, executive director of attractions and exhibits, explains. "Some sang, some danced, some played their own instruments. We even had one girl get out on a picnic table in the audience with her guitar. The kids have a lot of leeway; they just have to keep it family-friendly."

Five contestants will be chosen to go on to the final round, where they will vie against others in their age group for a title accompanied by a small cash prize, a belt buckle and an opportunity to show off their skills on a float at the next year's Rodeo.

"One of the winners from last year is currently working hard to start her singing career, but we're really looking forward to having her come back to perform," Greer said.

Last year's event brought in 100 auditions, 40,000 online votes and the biggest crowd the Kids' Country Stage has ever seen, and rodeo officials hope for an even bigger show this year. They also want to expand their audience, as girls far outnumbered the male element in the previous contest.

Next Page »
My Voice Nation Help
Elvia Guzman
Elvia Guzman

How do you get tickets for the military appreciation day? My husband got out the military this past October and has been feeling pretty down, because he was unemployed until last week. We've been unable to take the kids out and would really enjoy going to that event. Thanks.


How do you get tickets to go to the military appreciaion day? My husband just got out the military this past October and had been unemployed until last week. We haven't been able to really go out because of the situation we're in, so this would be really nice.