Striving for more comfort and convenience, the 2020 version of the Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo has added baby stations at multiple locations, tweaked its rideshare drop-offs by moving them to a new spot and for visitors of all ages: added a new tented area with sofas, outlets, and water to provide a calm break from the fast-paced carnival atmosphere.
And in two 21st Century moves, the HLSR has added a new mobile app for ride and prize tickets and an expansion of the student art competition to include a graphic arts category using computer technology.
There's even a special parakeets enclosure allowing visitors to interact with the brightly colored birds.
Of course, the usual staples of fried food, carnival rides and games, and hundreds of rodeo competitors each vying for thousands of dollars in award money will all be in place along with Star Entertainers (Willie Nelson, Khalid, Lizzo anyone? Or how about the K-Pop band, NCT 127?) And yes, there's a new food item this year (see below).
According to HLSR President Joel Cowley: “The goal is that everyone has a great experience.”
All this comes together thanks to the crucial work of 35,000 volunteers and 120 staff members. The Houston rodeo draws in upwards of 2.5 million visitors every year with a mission — in addition to entertaining its visitors — to promote agriculture and raise funds to support Texas youth and education.
Rideshare drop-offs will now be placed in the most external parking lot, the Yellow Lot, to avoid having Uber and Lyft drivers go further into NRG Park and add to congestion. Visitors using ride share services will not have to worry about long walks, however, because the rodeo has already established a tram line from that lot.
There is a new time deadline for Family Wednesdays, the weekly opportunity for children under 12 and adults over 60 to get onto the carnival grounds for free. As of this year, free entry will only be available until noon each Wednesday. Cowley said that this decision was to encourage families to come to the carnival earlier. “That way,” he explains, “the carnival will be less crowded later in the day.”
HLSR will be holding its first “sensory-friendly” day for visitors with sensitivities to the loud noises and bright lights of the carnival. On Thursday, March 5, from 10 to 1 p.m., more than 40 rides will have reduced sounds and lights to make the carnival accessible to both children and adults with special needs.
In an effort to improve both convenience and carnival engagement, the Livestock Show and Rodeo has developed a new mobile app for ride and prize tickets. This app is separate from the existing rodeo app and, Cowley said, “will track how many ride and prize tickets you have” instead of requiring visitors to keep count in their heads.
The new app will have the added bonus of a mobile game. There will be several areas on the grounds where app users can collect the game currency, buckles, and win real prizes. The president hopes that the new game will encourage visitors to explore more of the park.
The rodeo is also adding a digital spin to Agventure, its educational agriculture exhibit. As of this year, visitors will have the opportunity to compete in a farming simulator video game. Participants will compete to be the best at hay-stacking and otherwise show off their farming knowledge and skills.
Social-media-minded visitors will have new opportunities for shareable photos this year with the addition of two three-dimensional photo stations, including seven-foot tall letters that spell out “Rodeo” and a station styled like a magazine cover. The latter will also serve as a “Shopping Showcase” for vendors at the Rodeo. “We’re hoping this will generate more social media activity,” Cowley said.
Another photo opportunity will come in the form of a balloon sculpture. An artist will come in at regular intervals to add balloons to a 3-D mural that will grow and change over the course of the 2020 Rodeo.
In honor of the HLSR mission statement to support youth and education, it has expanded the competitions for youth. Recognizing how important computers have become in the modern age, the rodeo and has added a Graphic Art section to the longstanding School Art competition. In this competition, students designed a poster to advertise the School Art competition. The winner will have his or her poster distributed to schools to encourage participation for next year’s competition.
Another program, the Industrial Crafts competition, is making its debut this year. “We want to answer the need for skilled labor,” Cowley said. Students who compete will be given materials and instructions to build a grill. The final projects will be judged based on the quality of their welding and construction on March 14 and will remain on display throughout the rodeo’s run.
On February 29, before the rodeo officially opens, the annual World’s Championship Bar-B-Que contest will include a junior division competition for 25 children aged 8 to 14. The children, who will be chosen by a random drawing, will be given a steak to prepare. “This is a pilot program for us,” Cowley said. “We hope to expand it next year to include more children from the area.”
There will be several new exhibits for visitors. One is an expansion of the “Born to Buck” presentation that has been part of the rodeo opening ceremony in recent years. Several generations of bucking horses will be on display along with information about their working conditions so that visitors can learn more about the animal athletes that appear in the rodeo.
In another display of animal athleticism, an act called Xtreme Dogs will be appearing on the carnival grounds this year. The performers are rescue dogs who have been given agility and skill training. “Part of our goal is to encourage animal rescue,” said Cowley.
A parakeet enclosure will be added to the Agventure exhibits to give visitors the opportunity to directly interact with parakeets. “Kids can buy a feed stick and meet the birds. They should really enjoy it,” Cowley said. Chuckling, he added, “I’ll probably enjoy it too.”
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He also mentioned that a new food item has been added to the carnival—macaroni and cheese egg rolls. “They’re incredible,” he promised. “I don’t know how they weren’t already invented.”
The Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo is a huge event in the Houston area, going strong since 1932. In its entertainment it tries to strike a balance between traditional country acts and — increasingly — performers from other genres in the hopes of attracting all sorts of audiences.
Cowley was especially excited to announce that, as of this year, the Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo has reached $500 million in lifetime fundraising. He praised the sponsors, volunteers, and visitors for all their help in reaching this momentous goal, and said, “I think the future is even brighter with this community behind us.”