If you thought the Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo was just for shit-kickers, FFA students and the dozen or so Lee Greenwood fans not in nursing homes, there's a whole 'nother world to explore, with activities that run the gamut from countrified to fancified. The rodeo carnival begins Thursday, February 24, and runs through March 20 on the grounds of Reliant Park. It features roller coasters, bumper cars, slides and, of course, those carnival games where players end up dropping $30 for an eight-inch stuffed bear. Or, hang with the trail riders and marching bands at the annual Rodeo Parade, which kicks off at 10 a.m. Saturday, February 26, at the corner of Smith and Texas in downtown. For folks who like their booze a bit fancier than Bud Light, there's a wine competition at the Reliant Astrodome on Monday, February 28, where 1,200 vinos from 300 wineries will compete (sadly, your $75 ticket does not entitle you to sample all of them). And on March 6 and 13, the rodeo gets godly with the Fellowship of Christian Cowboys' Cowboy Church on the second level of Reliant Center, where ornery cusses will ask forgiveness for their sins (let's hope none of them involves livestock). For information and a complete schedule, visit www.rodeohouston.com. Bob Ruggiero
A Smokin' Time
Cut down a tree. Make sure it's mesquite. Reckon hickory will do all right too, if you must. There you go, pardner. Now, find yourself a cow. Whack that dumb beast across the head and cut it up into different parts. Soon after, we'll stoke those tree branches and get 'em a-smokin' under Elsie's spice-rubbed carcass. After 12 hours, hell, maybe even a day, we'll take out the meat, slather it in a ketchup-and-Worcestershire mix, and eat till we're plum tuckered.
Yep, it's time for the World's Championship Bar-B-Que Contest. This weekend, more than 300 teams of experts adept (presumably) in said culture will put their mastery of the barbecue variables -- time, wood, smoke, sauce, quality of meat -- on display in an attempt to wow judges. Even the pits will be decked out, masquerading as fire trucks, covered wagons, garbage trucks, armadillos and even the state of Texas.
Show up and chow down on a complimentary chopped beef sandwich while dodging the street dancers, who'll be two-stepping to local entertainer Troy McManus (no relation) from 5 p.m. to 11 p.m. Thursday, February 24; noon to 11 p.m. Friday, February 25; and 9 a.m. to 11 p.m. Saturday, February 26. One Reliant Park. For tickets and information, call 713-629-3700 or visit www.rodeohouston.com. $6. Brian McManus
Rock 'n' Rodeo
Shake yer caboose to hotties, has-beens and honky-tonkers
The Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo always scores high marks in the people-watching department, in a Hee Haw-come-to-life kinda way. But hell, for our money, it's also the best music event in these here United States. It's got everything a music lover could ever want: country stars and starlets (Clay Walker, March 20; Martina McBride, March 12), a teen pop sensation (Houston's own Hilary Duff, March 6), some has-beens (Lynyrd Skynyrd, March 18) and up-and-comers (Gretchen Wilson, March 5). All that on top of frigging pig races? Genius.
Spanning several genres of music over three weeks, this year's lineup of artists boasts a grand total of 11 Grammy Awards (and 105 different country awards you've never heard of). The bill includes everything from the country/rap/midget exploitation of Big and Rich (March 7) to that sultry tickler of the ivories, Alicia Keys (March 4).
Need something else to crow about? How about the family-first pricing? Where $500 will get you a wristband at this year's SXSW (soo overrated!) and the pleasure of being snubbed at any venue with a marquee act, the fine folks at the rodeo offer cozy spots to park your weary caboose for under $20. And you won't have to suffer through abhorrent opening acts. Instead, chuckle mightily at the miniature chuckwagon races, and ooh and aah at the grace it takes to rope a baby calf. Shows run from Tuesday, March 1, through March 20. One Reliant Park. For tickets and information, call 713-629-3700 or visit www.rodeohouston.com. Tickets start at $16. Brian McManus Boot Scoot
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Pretty savvy of the rodeo folk to schedule the 18th annual ConocoPhillips Rodeo Run 10K race and 5K fun run/walk just after the barbecue cookoff, ain't it? Register online and pick up your race packet (as there's no day-of registration) at Luke's Locker (1953 West Gray) on Thursday and Friday, February 24 and 25. Meet the masses at 8 a.m. (first race starts at 9:45 a.m.) Saturday, February 26, downtown at the corner of Texas and Smith. For information and registration, call 281-293-2447 or visit www.conocophillipsrodeorun.com. $25. Steven Devadanam
We always seem to overlook the event that puts the "livestock" in Livestock Show and Rodeo. This week, you can horse around at cutting-horse shows, which begin on Tuesday, March 1. Or peruse the bluebloods groomed by more than 1,100 Texas 4-H and FFA chapters at the Livestock Show, which begins Wednesday, March 2. Consider it a bovine beauty pageant, with the lucky winners being crowned Miss Prime Rib. Through March 20. One Reliant Park. For tickets and information, call 713-629-3700 or visit www.rodeohouston.com. $3 and up. Steven Devadanam