Behind the Scenes on the RodeoHouston Grounds

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.

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.

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