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.
SALUTING OUR TROOPS
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 NEXT GENERATION OF SUPERSTARS
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.
"Only one boy made it into the top-ten round," Greer says. "Both group winners were girls."
The event is free. First-round competition is on March 5, with the final round on March 12.
SOUNDS LIKE IT'S RODEO TIME
RodeoHouston® offers up a diverse musical lineup.
Good news for country music fans: Jason Aldean, holder of the single-night attendance record at the Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo, is back, as most notably is legend George Strait, making his goodbye bows. Also on hand in this year's entertainer lineup of country and sort-of country favorites: The Band Perry, Lady Antebellum, The Zac Brown Band and Blake Shelton. But the rodeo is covering its bases even further, with Miami singer/rapper Pitbull, pop/soul/R&B from Bruno Mars, classic rock from Styx, and 'tween fave pop rockers Demi Lovato and Kevin Mahone.
Here's the lineup:
February 25: Toby Keith
February 26: Gary Allan
February 27: Alan Jackson
February 28: Zac Brown Band
March 1: Mary J. Blige
March 2: Brantley Gilbert
March 3: Demi Lovato
March 3: Austin Mahone
March 4: Styx
March 5: Lady Antebellum
March 6: Dierks Bentley
March 7: Bruno Mars
March 8: Tim McGraw
March 9: The Band Perry
March 10: Julion Alvarez
March 10: Los Invasores de Nuevo Leon
March 11: Jason Aldean
March 12: Kenny Chesney
March 13: Jake Owen
March 14: Pitbull
March 15: Blake Shelton
March 16: Luke Bryan
March 17: George Strait
March 17: Martina McBride
March 17: Randy Rogers Band
Monday through Friday Performances: RodeoHouston® start time is 6:45 p.m. with the performers typically taking the stage between 9 and 9:30 p.m.
Saturday, March 2, Sunday, March 3, and Sunday, March 10, Performances: RodeoHouston® start time is 3:45 p.m. with the performers typically taking the stage between 5:45 and 6:15 p.m.
Saturday, March 9, and Saturday, March 16, Performances: RodeoHouston® start time is 3:30 p.m. with the performers typically taking the stage between 5:30 and 6 p.m.
Sunday, March 17, Performances: RodeoHouston® start time is 6:30 p.m. (concert-only performance, no rodeo)
RECURRING THROUGHOUT THE RODEO
(February 25-March 17 unless otherwise noted.)
The New Bull @100.3 Carnival
February 21-March 17
Although now under a new name, the carnival still brings the same great exhibits and rides that families love to experience again and again, including the Ferris wheel, live carousels, roller coasters and the bull-riding machine. Tasty food will be in abundance, although healthy food might take some searching, and games that can confound or please are just waiting for someone to step up with tickets. The carnival is open from the afternoon to midnight on weekdays and all day on weekends.
Capital One Bank AGVENTURE
An educational place for anyone who wants to learn more about the flora and fauna that go into making the Rodeo what it is, this large and lively exhibit can be found in Reliant Center. Visitors of all ages can see livestock being born or standing up for the first time, bees busily buzzing about, and all manner of machinery and workmanship that might be found on a farm. Entry is free to all exhibits.
Champion Wine Garden
An enduring fixture of the fair, this garden is located on Carruth Plaza and open from afternoon or early evening to 11 p.m. It has singular landscaping guaranteed to draw the eyes of weary passers-by, and is sure to offer a moment of comfort and fine wine to anyone who enters. Wine from this year's competition will be available for purchase by both the glass and the bottle, as well as for tasting.
The Hideout is a special little musical corner of the grounds meant for country and western lovers above the age of 21. Open from 6 p.m., this tent will be home to plenty of performers with a bent for the simple life.
A kid-friendly section of the rodeo set aside just for the smaller cowboys and cowgirls, this pint-sized carnival includes events such as the Kids Pedal Tractor Pull, Mutton Bustin' and Pig Races. It will also have certain staples, including a petting zoo; an old-fashioned carousel; pony rides; camel rides; a zip line for those kids who want a high-flying view of the fair; the educational "fun on the farm" exhibit; and a stage devoted to their entertainment (courtesy of Radio Disney) that will be hosting the amateur singing contest called RodeoRockstar. This part of the carnival closes an hour earlier than the rest.
Kids Pedal Tractor Pull
Presented in Kids Country, this event is open to kids from four to 12 years of age and allows them to participate in a pedal-powered tractor pull. It takes place several times a day, weekdays and weekends alike.
This fluffy little event gives groups of five- and six-year-olds the opportunity to try their hand at braving the bucking of a bouncing sheep. As a safer and cuter alternative to the adult version, it will be available every hour to all who swing by Kids Country during the day and every night to those who see the Rodeo itself.
Watch tiny pigs with punny names compete against each other in full racing colors for the chance to win special treats. The races are staged in Kids Country and take place all day, every day on a half-hourly basis.
RELIANT ARENA EVENTS
National Cutting Horse Association Cutting
The NCHA will be holding competitions every morning at 8 a.m. for cash prizes ranging from $3,000 to $50,000. Stop by for a demonstration of true cowboy skill.
Versatility Ranch Horse World Championship Show
February 28-March 2
A world championship event run by the American Quarter Horse Association that showcases the various talents of the ranch horse. It will be held in separate segments starting at 7:30 a.m. and includes afternoon sessions.
Cowboy Mounted Shooting World Championship
March 1 and 2
A two-day event run by the AQHA, this fast-paced competition allows men and women alike to display a most invaluable skill: the ability to shoot down balloons while riding round on a horse at top speed.
Paint Horse Show
March 5 and 6
These artistic-looking horses will be strutting their stuff at 8 a.m. two days in a row. The first event is in roping, speed and English form, and the second will be in halter and Western.
Palomino Horse Show
March 7 and 8
This brilliant breed will have two shows all to itself, both starting at 8 a.m. The first focuses on the Western division and the second on the English.
Team Penning and Ranch Sorting
March 11 and 12
If you're a morning person, this 7 a.m. event is perfect for you, particularly if you enjoy watching a team of people herd cattle.
Llama and Alpaca Shows
For these four days, visitors can drop in on a number of events for the exhibition of llamas and alpacas, including costume events, halter, speed and showmanship. They occur at various times of the day.
Donkey and Mule Shows
Over the course of three days, there'll be several shows for the performance and showing of donkeys and mules, including showmanship, halter, speed, performance and mule driving (fun to watch, if a bit bizarre). The events will be held at 8 a.m.
RELIANT CENTER EVENTS
February 25-March 17
Goats, cattle, sheep and student artwork all hang out or up in the various halls of the Reliant Center for visitors' perusal. If you'd like to see who wins, or just enjoy admiring the work of talented folk, young and old, this is the place to be at any time during the Rodeo's run.
RELIANT STADIUM EVENTS
RODEOHOUSTON BP Super Series
February 25-March 16
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Starting at 3:45 p.m. on weekends and 6:45 p.m. on weekdays, this is the main event. Each day will bring another round and another chance at winning money and recognition for the competitors. The Super Series comes to its final crescendo with the championship on Saturday, March 16.
Super Shootout: North America's Champions
This event is a one-day rodeo, separate from the Super Series, that includes the champions from ten different rodeos in the United States and Canada competing in one final showdown. Athletes will face off in bareback riding, barrel racing, bull riding and saddle bronc riding for a whopping $200,000. The event begins at 3:30 p.m. and will be followed by a concert featuring The Band Perry.