Arts and Culture

Over the Weekend: Keeping the American dream alive at the Rodeo

Living in Denver -- especially if you live in Capitol Hill, as I do -- it can be easy to forget that, despite our fancy skyscrapers and hoity-toity public art, we still living in the wild American West, if a slightly more urbane one in within the blue insulation of the city. Not far outside these city limits, though, ranching is still a huge industry, and cowboys are still roping steers and, you know, doing whatever else they do. Whatever it is, it influences us city slickers perhaps more than we like to admit. For one thing -- as my girlfriend pointed out when one guy walked by us at the PRCA Mountain States Rodeo Circuit Finals in a plaid shirt and ridiculously tight pants (which was basically the same thing I happened to be wearing) -- "hipster style is, ironically, cowboy style."

Don't think so? Drop by City O City and see how long it takes you to spot a guy wearing a huge belt buckle. Or cowboy boots. Or a snap-button shirt. Pretty much the only thing the Cap Hill hipsters haven't copped from cowboys is the Stetson hat -- and that might be just a matter of time. Nevertheless, it's a pretty solid bet that none of them have ever been to the rodeo.

Admittedly, I'd never been to the rodeo either before Friday night -- but that track record is about to change, because what I found out Friday night is that the rodeo is fucking awesome.

For a couple of different reasons. One, it was awesome for the reason it intends to be awesome; the events, though they're fairly familiar to anyone with any acquaintance with American culture, are still pretty incredible to see up close. The calf-roping (if it's called that; I'm not sure what its actual name is), for example, was crazy. Here's how it works: A gate opens and a calf comes charging out with a cowboy coming after it. The cowboy lassos the calf, hooks the rope to his saddle, jumps off the horse, tackles the calf and ropes its feet. Doesn't sound that impressive? Then consider this, you jaded little cynic: A lot of these cowboys completed the whole thing, from the start gate to the roping, in less than 10 seconds. I don't care if you're so hip you knit graffiti, that's an impressive sight to behold.

And then, of course, there is the bull-riding, which you don't really realize until you see it in front of you how how absolutely fucking insane a thing it is to do. The bulls are huge. They are angry that you are riding them. And they will kill you. It was alarming how often cowboys get tossed off and land on their heads. One guy got straight-up trampled after he fell off, and then still managed to get up and walk it off like he gets trampled by 3,000-lb animals every day. Maybe he does. Either way, that takes some balls.

The other thing that was awesome about the rodeo was the sheer levels of Americana. One ten-minute event was just the rodeo clown, alone in the middle of the arena, dancing to a montage of basically the greatest hits of everything, from "Kung Fu Fighting" to "Mr. Roboto" to "Poker Face" to "The Chicken Dance."

It was pretty weird.

The best part, though, was the little kids, all decked out in their rodeo finest. My favorite kid wore a spangly belt with a buckle the size of a dinner plate, plus cowboy boots with spurs -- spurs! -- and a white cowboy hat. During the bull-riding, between rides, he would stand very still at the bottom of the risers with his finger raised in the air and his hat over his eyes. As soon as the buzzer rang and the bull came out, he'd burst into motion, bucking and spinning like he was having a seizure, but dreaming, no doubt, of holding on for dear life with that giant mass of bull under him, doing everything in its considerable power to get him off.

Godspeed, little cowboy.

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Jef Otte
Contact: Jef Otte