For the next three weeks Reliant Park will be the center of the cowboy universe. It is the 77th rendition of the Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo. Over 21-thousand volunteers make the experience memorable. LeRoy Shafer is the Chief Operating Officer at Rodeo Houston. He says the event reaches into the fabric of Harris County and the entire Gulf Coast area.
“We were founded during the Great Depression. We started in 1931. Our basis for what we are today really came about in 1938 and 1942, because in 1938 we added the rodeo for the first time, and that’s when the really big volunteer effort was put in there.”
Pearl Harbor in 1942 almost canceled the Rodeo, but Shafer says President Franklin Roosevelt asked that the fairs and festivals to do their shows.
“Not only showing the world that we were going to survive, but the allied troops needed food. They needed the agricultural products that the consistency of the fairs and festivals were producing. So, we added Gene Autry to the show. That was the first entertainer.”
He says Rodeo Houston manages to attract the top entertainers in the music industry because of how it showcases the artists.
“If you saw the opening on the Beijing Olympics and saw all that video technology that you could see video on one side and see-through on the other side, well, not only we added that to our stage, that whole bulky column or back drop is gone, and now we have this new technology on the stage. The surface of the stage has been raised. We’re adding two video rings above our stage and they’ll be a center stage there in the rodeo. One goes above those eight big video screens we’ve had for the last ten or twelve years, one goes below it. So, in effect, we’ve doubled the performance capacity of our stage, and we put all that technology in there.”
The first show on Tuesday features Rascal Flatts. But before that happens, thousands of cowboys and girls that represent up 15-trail rides make their way into Memorial Park and into the Rodeo Parade through downtown. Back at Reliant Park, Committeeman Randy Trahan says volunteers work against a timeline to make events like the World Champion BBQ Cook-off possible.
“It’s a city. It’s tent city. For what they do, in three or four days, trying to rig up. Last year we had 214-thousand people come to this thing. For them to come in here and put all this together, it’s pretty awesome.”
LeRoy Shafer with Rodeo Houston says the show’s success is due to the dedication of the volunteers.
“Last year was our second best year in history and in the paid rodeo concert attendance, we were slightly over one million, 206-thousand, we were 1.84-million in general attendance out here on the grounds.”
He says this year, with the sluggish economy, they’re cautiously optimistic.
Pat Hernandez, KUHF…Houston Public Radio News.