"No convention to be held here this year will exceed in importance the gathering of this week," the Rocky Mountain News pronounced in January 1906, the year the National Western Stock Show got its start, as an adjunct of the annual Colorado Cattle and Horse Growers Association convention by the Denver Union Stockyards, where so many animals were penned awaiting shipment back east. "It should not be necessary for stock raisers to send their cattle, sheep and hogs to the Missouri River and Chicago in order to find a favorable market. This city will not be satisfied until it is the livestock center of the West and all the related industries are firmly established here."
Today it sometimes feels like this city will not be satisfied until it forgets its roots as the livestock center of the West. And eighteen months ago, when Gaylord Entertainment tried rustling the National Western for its proposed complex in Aurora, Denver almost lost the show altogether. This fall, Mayor Michael Hancock promised that the National Western Stock Show would remain "here in Denver." But while assorted committees take their time figuring out whether "here" is actually in the city-owned facilities where the show's lease stretches several more decades or just anywhere in Denver, and how, exactly, to guarantee both a permanent location and some profits for the non-profit National Western, it's high time to take stock of what can be done to make the Stock Show an integral part of Denver year-round — and not just twenty days a year.
And it's going to take more than the three-minute customer survey now offered right by the mother's breast-feeding booth in the Hall of Education to rope up ideas that could really tie the Stock Show to the Denver of today. How much more? How about three hours in the Cowboy Bar two floors below? That's where we came up with a half-dozen ways to teach this old cow parade some new tricks:
National Western Stock Show
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6. Embrace the history of the National Western, dirt and all. Sure, the Stadium Arena lacks the technology and amenities of newer facilities, but it has something they don't: a past. So do the stockyards themselves, which were established along the train tracks just northeast of downtown back in 1886, a dozen years before the central portion of the Livestock Exchange Building was constructed. While some committee members assess what to do with the Cold War-era Coliseum and the disco-doomed Hall of Education, others should focus on how to make these areas — and their history in the heart of Denver — the real centerpiece of the future Stock Show.
5. But as long as the Coliseum is still there, why not fill it every night with concerts, the way Cheyenne Frontier Days does? We know it won't be easy to clean up the remains of the rodeo in time to put on a show...but Cheyenne somehow manages.
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4. And if music in the Coliseum is a no-go, why not book concerts into the Bellco Theatre at the Colorado Convention Center and the Pepsi Center — and bus Stock Show fans down and back? After all, trolley cars once took Denverites to the National Western; now it's time to return the favor. If shuttles can take people to all those overflow lots packed with cars now that parking is free, they can take people to related events downtown...to remind them that there is a downtown.
3. And about those events: The Stock Show information booths are filled with information about the National Western Complex — but where are the fliers about related events and shows around town? In fact, why aren't some of those cutting-edge shows here? The Coors Western Art Show is growing more contemporary all the time (and made more money on its preview night than the previous record for the show's entire run), but Stock Show officials should take a cue from the Denver County Fair, which occupies this same space every summer, and book a tongue-in-beef-cheek exhibit (or two) that would attract this town's avant-garde artists.
2. The Old West Museum is talking with Rockmount Ranch Wear about bringing a version of the show that filled Foothills Art Center two summers ago to Wyoming. Why isn't the Stock Show snapping up the idea of devoting an exhibit to the homegrown company that invented the snap-button shirt? It's not even a clothes call. And Denver's Dress Western Day should be expanded to honor this city's pioneering contemporary fashion designers, who show how the West is worn today.
1. If the Museum of Contemporary Art can host Arts Meets Beast, the annual event in which a side of bison is butchered, then cooked by local chefs, there's no reason the Stock Show shouldn't borrow the idea — or steal it altogether. This is one time we'd root for the rustlers.