Tuesday, February 9, 2010

"I can't smile....are those cows over there?" Manilow TV from Rodeo Houston

There is so much more to the show currently on Manilow TV than just Barry's performance. Rodeo Houston isn't just a sports event, or a concert series. It's a cultural affirmation and anyone is welcome. If anyone is tempted to bitch about how short the clip is this month, don't. Everyone who plays Rodeo Houston gets one hour, including the ride in the pickup (used to be a chuck wagon) to and from the stage through the bull chute. The evening's music is just a drop in the bucket.

As far as the public is concerned, you know when Rodeo is coming when the local news reporters start appearing on camera in traditional western dress on horseback. That's not a typo. Local rodeo clubs will re-enact trail rides from the 19th century, when cattlemen would drive their stock to feeding grounds along the coast, then into Houston for sale. News crews will follow along on their own horses.

On the Friday before Rodeo starts, the trail rides all arrive in town. On the streets. Sometimes during morning rush hour. TV and radio warn drivers to leave extra time, give the animals some room and lay off the horn, and everyone will be happy. Hundreds of cows and horses rest for the night in a major park.

This Friday is officially designated Go Texan/Go Tejano day. Western dress is encouraged at work. Hats and boots included. This translates into everything from honkey-tonk nightclub wear to fuzzy chaps to 1950s Roy Rogers atrocities. Many companies will have mock "arrests" for those who don't get into the Texan spirit and wear their usual clothing. "Bail" becomes contribution to the Livestock Show scholarship fund.

This same night is a massive BBQ cook-off that almost fills the parking lot around the Astrodome. Every major and minor corporation in the county has a tent of some kind. Some will brag that there is no road kill to be found within 3 miles. Western dress is all but required for admission. News crews won't get an interview if they're not in hats.

The kickoff parade through the middle of downtown is the event of the year. EVERY dignitary in town is on a horse, including the Mayor, City Council, Board of Ed. Everybody. Western tack, no wimpy English riding saddles. The trail rides make their final trek and some well-sedated authentic Longhorns are pulling chuck wagons past the old Enron building.

Anyone planning to come to town on business, or to visit a hospital, etc get warned repeatedly - FOR MONTHS - to double check their lodging reservations over and over. There is NOT a hotel room to be found in five counties. People in larger houses will rent rooms or garage apartments for ridiculous amounts. And people WILL pay them. Even some of the competing cowboys crash on someone's sofa to save cash.

If you've seen rodeos, this one is no different in terms of the professional events. Maybe the purses are bigger at this world-class stage but you've seen one guy pray to stay on the back of a pissed-off, 2,000-lb bull for 8 seconds, you've seen them all.

Rodeo Houston is officially called the Houston Livestock Show & Rodeo. This is about raising money so kids can get an education in Texas. Over the past 50-odd years they've handed out almost $150 million. The money is where the mouth is. This rodeo pays special attention to agricultural education with the 4-H Club and Future Farmers of America (FFA) whose members are showing their animals in competition, then selling them at auction. There's even kids rodeo events!

Hush, it's not what you think. For the 5-year-old tykes, there's Mutton Bustin'. Grown men (sometimes women) ride untamed horses. The kids ride a big sheep. They wear protective gear, they're close to the ground if they fall, there's lots of wool to hold on to, it's hilarious.

For the teenagers, it's the Calf Scramble. 30 kids, each with a piece of rope. 15 calves. All turned loose in the main arena. The goal is to catch a calf. Bare-handed. Tie a halter on the calf with the rope. Drag the animal across a finish line. For the fifteen that accomplish this, the calf is theirs. They raise it and show it in the next year or two at the Livestock Show. Selling it at auction earns them money for college. If their animal is judged a Champion, the auction price goes up. Some Grand Champion winners get a free ride to college this way.

Finally, there's AG-venture Plaza. Do you realize how many kids don't know that chickens hatch from eggs? Or where eggs come from? Or that think meat just comes wrapped in plastic in a supermarket? This is where the public ed takes place. Kids go crazy for the egg hatching incubator.

The concert at the end of the night is only icing on the cake. Some purists insist that there should only be country or Tejano music but that's never been the case. Take a look at the past history of performers and you'll see that Barry is far from the only one to ask "What's that smell?" while trying not to think about the answer. Texas was a nation at one time built by people from all over just making their way in life. Nothing's changed, except for the technology and population density. Everyone's a Texan for these few weeks so all kinds of music gets showcased.

And THIS is what Barry performed in the middle of. This is what is going on for weeks around this month's episode on Manilow TV.


  1. I was at that show. Another excuse for a "Manilow Road Trip." About a dozen of us drove down from the D/FW area, and had a great time at Barry's second Houston Rodeo appearance.

    While the real memory from this one was Barry in the back of a pickup singing "Can't Smile," the memory from the first appearance that springs to mind is Debra Byrd screaming in the back of a horse-pulled wagon. What a hoot!

    Glad they decided to share this show with those who couldn't be there.

  2. Great post!
    There is a lot more than just entertainment that goes on at a Rodeo and you illustrated it very well.
    I did some of my growing up in Montana and participated actively in 4-H and livestock events/rodeos (nothing on quite that scale, though). It's a lot of work, but a lot of fun. I'd recommend that every kid gets that opportunity once.

  3. Yes, the Houston Rodeo is big here. From the barbeque cookoffs, to the trail rides, parade, events, shows and exhibits. Yes the Rodeo brings top talent for concerts (including Barry) the main focus is the kids who raise their livestock in hopes of gaining experience and scholarships for college. And I will say that all those kids who work so hard on their projects are some of the nicest and most polite kids you will ever see.