Rodeo Austin: A Wild West Tradition With a Hill Country Twang

By David Leffler – March 1, 2017

Fashion, fine art, carnival fairgrounds and food trucks: Rodeo Austin has a little bit of everything for everybody. Now in its 79th year, the Central Texas mainstay has long cemented itself as the region’s most versatile and exciting event. Along with its variety of cowboy challenges and ranch hand feats of strength, the rodeo’s production team plans to roll out a brand-new beer garden and welcome a swath of local eateries into its dining selection, in an effort to extend entertainment options beyond the corral—and that’s just the beginning. Their reasoning? To ensure that this 15-day extravaganza is as unique and inclusive as the city hosting it. With another 200,000-plus attendees expected for this year’s proceedings, the nonprofit spectacle hopes to show Austin’s latest batch of rodeo-goers what happens when rawhide, corn dogs, and Hill Country charity collide on March 11-25.

Putting The ‘Fun’ In Fundraising

Before we dive into its attractions, it’s important to note what’s driving Rodeo Austin to greater heights year after year. Hint: it isn’t wealthy executives or wider commercial revenue streams—it’s fundraising for a good cause. Over the course of its expansion (from a local stock show, to a Top 10 ProRodeo competition, to a year-round project), the rodeo has transitioned to become a full-fledged non-profit that helps send thousands of Texans to college every year. To give you an idea of how successful this endeavor has been, their officials estimate they’ve awarded over $7.5 million and 16,000 scholarships since the program’s inception in 1981—including nearly $2 million last year alone. Fueled by growing crowd sizes and talented performers of all kinds, Rodeo Austin’s riding high and hoping for another record-breaking fundraising effort in 2017. 

The Main Dish

With an innumerable amount of bars, music venues, restaurants, and attractions, Austin is as versatile and entertaining a city as they come. At the end of the day, though, there’s nothing quite like a rodeo. Featuring cowboy classics like bull riding, bareback riding, bullfighting, and barrel racing, Rodeo Austin stays true to the official sport of Texas as it transports you from your comfy city confines to the dusty wild west. You won’t be watching amateurs, either—these true-blue buckaroos are the most talented competitors in the state. Although you’d think traditional acts would have more fanfare, the most popular event is actually mutton bustin’, which entails aspiring young cowboys and cowgirls flying out of chutes aboard sheep. If you think it sounds hysterical, just wait ‘til you see it in person.

Music To Our Ears

Let’s be honest, it wouldn’t be a true Austin event without a little live music. So if you’re more into bass guitars and drum solos than broncos and barrel racing, breathe easy—you’re in good hands. Playing host to over 100 musical acts from across the musical spectrum, Rodeo Austin’s likely the most underrated festival to hear live tunes at in the city. Featured performers include Kenny Rogers, Fitz & The Tantrums, Kevin Fowler, Patti LaBelle, and Dwight Yoakam, but many more acts are ready to take the stage. Whether you’re a music festival regular or are new to the scene, there’ll be concerts for people of all tastes.

Fried Food & Rides

Sights and sounds are great, but eats and treats are what truly make an event. That’s where the rodeo’s fairgrounds come into play. Offering carnival favorites like turkey legs, cotton candy, and corn dogs, the ‘Chow Town’ section has all of the greasy, delicious ingredients you need to relive your childhood adventures. To cater to Austin’s foodie scene, there’ll also be a plethora of local food truck favorites and a beer garden—an addition Rodeo Austin officials are especially excited about. The fairgrounds are home to more than just good grub, though. Other features include over 60 carnival rides, vendors selling crafts and clothing, a petting zoo, pig races, and outrageous shows like Team Ghost Rider, which brings the jungle to the rodeo with monkeys riding sheep dogs. Need we say more?

Stock Brokers 

There’s far more to a Texas stock show than what you’ll find on Wall Street. Home to 15 different horse and livestock shows, exhibitors from across the country flock to Rodeo Austin to show off their prized animals. From longhorns to stallions, every walk of ranch animal life will be on display as proud owners chase their dreams of winning the title of Grand Champion. The event includes the 8th largest junior stock show in North America and a few special horse shows, including the Golden Stirrup. Reserved for riders with special needs, this show displays how riding can help strengthen muscles, improve balance and concentration, and build self-confidence. Regardless of your stock show expertise, be sure to swing by the show barn for an impressive, educational experience.

But Wait, There’s More!

Surprisingly, some of the most unique segments of Rodeo Austin don’t happen during its 15-day procession. Instead, many of them take place throughout the year. Their March kickoff party (a free cowboy breakfast at the Long Center on March 3), BBQ Austin (a two-day cook-off at the Travis County Expo Center on March 3–4), and their Bullet Proof closeout party highlight some of their most popular events of the year. Don’t worry if you’re not around Austin in March, either —Rodeo Austin is also presenting their scholarship awards ceremony at the Bob Bullock Museum in August, and hosting a clay shooting tournament in October. Rodeo work truly never stops! 



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