Behind the Scenes on the RodeoHouston Grounds

Looking out at the Astrodome from the Miller Lite Stage in the Garden, a.k.a. the South parking lot of NRG Stadium
Looking out at the Astrodome from the Miller Lite Stage in the Garden, a.k.a. the South parking lot of NRG Stadium
Photos by Chris Gray

Dan Cheney doesn't seem like the new guy. Technically, this is his second March as vice
president and chief operating officer of the Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo, the No. 2 job in one of the Bayou City's largest and highest-profile nonprofit organizations. He took over in October 2014
when his predecessor, the legendary Leroy Shafer, graduated/retired to an emeritus role.

"Shafe," as he's known in rodeo circles, started at the rodeo in 1973 and today enjoys a level of esteem from his former colleagues that approaches what Oilers fans feel for the late Bum Phillips. Which, naturally, left Cheney some pretty big boots to fill. Not that you'd know it by talking to him.

Congenial and unflappable, Cheney came to Houston from Cheyenne Frontier Days in his native Wyoming, one of the bigger rodeos on the circuit, where he had been CEO for four years. Last Friday afternoon, fragrant smells from the World's Championship Bar-B-Q Contest blew through the crisp afternoon air as Cheney gave the Houston Press a walking tour of the NRG Park grounds on the cusp of the rodeo's 84th season.

Couch in the outer artists' area. Note the picture of George Strait on the right.
Couch in the outer artists' area. Note the picture of George Strait on the right.

At the rodeo, other people — both its paid staff and its small army of volunteers — handle the details, but Cheney is the man who makes sure those details get taken care of. Walking with him, we watched him inspect a photo booth made to look like a giant can of Miller Lite (just for the heck of it); remove selected rocks from the dirt floor of the stadium (rocks that are too big could injure the horses); and scrutinize the merch tables set up for that evening's outdoor concert with an eye out for any items not up to the rodeo's family-friendly standards (one Kevin Fowler coozie wasn't). He also showed us around the revolving stage, sound and lighting control stations, and, deep inside the bowels of the stadium, the green room and artists' retreat.


These rooms were the highlight of the tour, done up like a wealthy 1950s or '60s Texas rancher, banker or oilman's private offices — lots of heavy, heavy hardwoods and plush leather upholstery, everything done in the deepest of earth tones. When showtime comes around like it will tonight, Cheney explained, even he's not allowed to go into a few of them.

These corrals are built off the stadium's north end zone for the livestock used in the rodeo. The animals are loaded into the stadium a few hours before they head into the arena, Cheney says.
These corrals are built off the stadium's north end zone for the livestock used in the rodeo. The animals are loaded into the stadium a few hours before they head into the arena, Cheney says.
Tunnel onto the field
Tunnel onto the field
On the field, looking up at the rodeo's 360-degree video board
On the field, looking up at the rodeo's 360-degree video board
Hole in the stadium floor that allows for drainage, electrical cables, etc.
Hole in the stadium floor that allows for drainage, electrical cables, etc.
Cherry-pickers on the stadium floor
Cherry-pickers on the stadium floor
Control panel for the revolving stage. Cheney says rodeo officials are in the early stages of discussions about transitioning into a newer model; the current stage has been in use since the mid-'80s, although it has undergone several upgrades during that time.
Control panel for the revolving stage. Cheney says rodeo officials are in the early stages of discussions about transitioning into a newer model; the current stage has been in use since the mid-'80s, although it has undergone several upgrades during that time.
Side view of the stage at rest. Note table and folding chair in the middle.
Side view of the stage at rest. Note table and folding chair in the middle.
Storage bin for the rodeo's Production department
Storage bin for the rodeo's Production department
The rodeo's production office, which won't stay empty for long.
The rodeo's production office, which won't stay empty for long.
Pegboard that holds keys to various rodeo vehicles. Note how many are in use.
Pegboard that holds keys to various rodeo vehicles. Note how many are in use.
The green room is decorated with posters featuring the lineups from past years. Here, 1976.
The green room is decorated with posters featuring the lineups from past years. Here, 1976.
1980
1980
1984
1984
Snacks in the green room
Snacks in the green room
The rodeo presents each entertainer with a commemorative belt buckle. Surely Kid Rock will appreciate this.
The rodeo presents each entertainer with a commemorative belt buckle. Surely Kid Rock will appreciate this.
Seats from the Astrodome help give the green room some continuity.
Seats from the Astrodome help give the green room some continuity.
The rodeo wants its entertainers to be as comfortable as possible. This far deep, even senior rodeo officials need artists' permission to go back.
The rodeo wants its entertainers to be as comfortable as possible. This far deep, even senior rodeo officials need artists' permission to go back.
A tour group enjoys a photo op in Budweiser Plaza.
A tour group enjoys a photo op in Budweiser Plaza.
One of this year's carnival rides
One of this year's carnival rides
On the way to the Miller Lite Stage in the Garden. Beautiful day!
On the way to the Miller Lite Stage in the Garden. Beautiful day!
The BBQ Shogun team came all the way from Japan to compete in the cookoff. Two teams from the UK were there, too.
The BBQ Shogun team came all the way from Japan to compete in the cookoff. Two teams from the UK were there, too.
Say "Cheese"!
Say "Cheese"!
Nothing wrong with this Cameran Nelson tank top at all.
Nothing wrong with this Cameran Nelson tank top at all.
Inside the headquarters tent of the rodeo's barbecue committee. Can you guess this year's theme?
Inside the headquarters tent of the rodeo's barbecue committee. Can you guess this year's theme?
How about now?
How about now?
Our tour guide for the afternoon, rodeo VP/COO Dan Cheney. Much obliged, Dan.
Our tour guide for the afternoon, rodeo VP/COO Dan Cheney. Much obliged, Dan.
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NRG Park

1 Reliant Parkway
Houston, TX 77054

832-667-1727


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