Bayou City

A Few Things All RodeoHouston First-Timers Should Know

If you see this gentleman, do say hello.
If you see this gentleman, do say hello. Photo by Jack Gorman
click to enlarge If you see this gentleman, do say hello. - PHOTO BY JACK GORMAN
If you see this gentleman, do say hello.
Photo by Jack Gorman
We’ve spent a lot of time over the past week or so talking about the music at RodeoHouston this year for a couple of reasons. One, the lineup is the rodeo’s most diverse in years, with old favorites like Alan Jackson and Brad Paisley right alongside Texas treasures like Willie Nelson and ZZ Top and newcomers the Chainsmokers, Fifth Harmony and Blink-182. There’s also been a little more, well, excitement about the lineup this year; just look at what happened yesterday. Still, we’d hate to give the wrong impression to the thousands of new Houstonians who weren’t here last year — more than 132,000 of them, according to a December article in the Houston Business Journal — and could well be a little puzzled right now about what all the fuss is about. The concerts do make a nice focal point of all the action, especially with that revolving stage, but in reality nothing could be further from the truth. Even on a rare “slow” day, RodeoHouston can be a hive of activity on a world-class scale, so the Houston Press asked some of our more experienced rodeo hands what advice they’d give the many folks for whom this will be their first rodeo.

Houston is a big, metropolitan city. For many of us, RodeoHouston is merely an excuse to pretend to be cowboys. We remove our Ferragamo slippers and Jimmy Choo heels, replacing them with the most authentic boots we could find on sale at Cavender's. Daisy Dukes, trophy belt buckles and 10-gallon hats become fleeting fashion statements, absent of any real meaning or heritage. And while that's all fine and in good fun, the Houston Livestock Show provides a great opportunity for us city folk to see what life is like for people living — prepare yourselves — outside the 610 Loop. Tie-down roping, bareback horse riding, steer wrestling and barrel racing competitions are just a few of the many entertaining sports to be showcased annually at the HLSR, all of which will provide ample fun for newcomers. And if you still just want to buy a turkey leg and go see the Chainsmokers, that's fine; but do yourself a favor and get to your seats at least 30 minutes early. If you miss the calf scramble or mutton bustin' events, you'll never forgive yourself. MATTHEW KEEVER

click to enlarge You might as well take a chuck wagon home after the rodeo if you choose to drive your own car. - PHOTO BY JACK GORMAN
You might as well take a chuck wagon home after the rodeo if you choose to drive your own car.
Photo by Jack Gorman
Houstonians, of the older variety especially, tend to think of private vehicles as a birthright, but know this: Exercising that right during rodeo season anywhere near NRG Park is a recipe for the worst gridlock you’ll ever see this side of the great Hurricane Rita Evacuation of 2005. Just don’t do it. Even if you are fortunate enough to score one of the passes that allow for parking relatively close to all the fun, you will still be attempting to exit the premises on the same streets as roughly 50,000 to 75,000 of your friends and fellow Houstonians, streets that are simply not equipped to handle that kind of traffic volume, ever. A few years back, I caught a ride with some friends home from a ZZ Top gig; it took a good hour for our vehicle to even leave the parking lot, and at least another one to reach the intersection of OST and Kirby less than a half-mile away. Most nights I’ve gone to the rodeo since, it’s been on the light rail, and I’m back at my car at the paper’s offices in Midtown when others are probably still waiting to turn onto Loop 610. Better still, the cross section of humanity on a packed rodeo train is unsurpassed: families still abuzz from their first rodeo experience, often with oversize carnival-won stuffed animals in tow; randy young couples a beer or two past the point of discreet PDAs; and my favorite, people merely on their way to or from work – often in the Med Center – whose awestruck expressions of bemusement, in my experience, have yet to reach an upper limit. CHRIS GRAY

click to enlarge The calf scramble offers unsurpassed entertainment. - PHOTO BY JACK GORMAN
The calf scramble offers unsurpassed entertainment.
Photo by Jack Gorman
As long as you don't have a problem with animals as entertainment – which is a perfectly valid thing to believe in, by the way – my best advice to you when it comes to RodeoHouston is to make the active effort to show up and experience more than just the concert itself. There's a lot of cool things to experience at the rodeo — massage chairs! chicks hatching! fried cookie dough! — but other than the concerts, it's the rodeo itself that is the most fun, even if you've never been on a farm and think you hate all things rural. Bull riding is intense, barrel racing is thrilling and who doesn't like a good wagon race? But those are all just the opening act to the twin main events of man-versus-animal entertainment: the calf scramble, in which teens are dragged kicking and screaming around the arena by calves, and mutton busting, in which parents convince their small children that riding a sheep in front of thousands of strangers is going to be totally fun and not weird at all. Seriously, though, after you watch mutton busting for the first time, you will become a devotee, silently scheming to get your future kids on one of those sheep, just to see what happens. CORY GARCIA

click to enlarge Yes, you may be able to eat this — or something equally delicious — if you play your cards right. - PHOTO BY PHAEDRA COOK
Yes, you may be able to eat this — or something equally delicious — if you play your cards right.
Photo by Phaedra Cook
Half of the fun of the Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo is shamelessly frying your Oreos, eating sausage half your height and chowing down on Paleolithic-era-size turkey legs. As is tradition. But in the same way you should wait an hour after eating before jumping in the pool, first-timers should be wary of the readily available delicious treats depending on what the rest of the evening entails. If you're planning to two-step, your partner will appreciate your waiting on that second corn dog; and if you're planning to go on any rides, those of us traversing the carnival below you will appreciate your calm stomach. Also, have you ever tried to sing along to Alan Jackson while uncomfortably full? It's a tall order, one that you should probably avoid. All things considered, it might be worthwhile to make two trips to RodeoHouston if you've never been before: Once to take in the livestock show and concert, and another to gorge yourself with as much fried food as you possibly can. Both are rites of passage, after all. MATTHEW KEEVER

click to enlarge Why, hello, sir. - PHOTO BY JACK GORMAN
Why, hello, sir.
Photo by Jack Gorman
  • Wearing boots and heels to look nice is cool, but going home without blisters is far cooler. Dress for comfort, not fashion. You're going to do a lot of walking.
  • There will always be around two hours of rodeo action prior to the evening's concert.
  • Be prepared for the sounds and smells of the rodeo. I personally wear earplugs. Too bad they don't make nose plugs, though.
  • Carnival food musts: Turkey leg, corn dog and funnel cake.
  • Make sure you are in your seat for Mutton Bustin'. You'll thank me later!
  • Rodeo concerts are only around 45 minutes long. Don't expect a full production and be disappointed after the short set. MARCO TORRES

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