Over the past 36 years, millions of people have walked through the gates of Rodeo Austin. And while many have some background in agriculture, others…. not so much.
That’s where I come in.
I was born in New York City and grew up in northern New Jersey. I’m far more used to the blizzard my home state is currently experiencing than the rodeo my new one is throwing.
But one of the best parts of this job is learning about different backgrounds and cultures – so on Wednesday, I took a trip out to Rodeo Austin.
In the shadow of South by Southwest, Rodeo Austin favors tassels to technology.
Livestock competitions, food, musical performances, food, agriculture classes, food; the Rodeo covers a wide spectrum of all things Western.
Before we showed up, we attempted to look the part.
So we went to Allen’s Boots on South Congress, the famed store that’s catered to stars like Adele, Amy Schumer, Pierce Brosnan, and Michael Perchick. Wait – did I just slip my name in there? Too late, backspace key is broken.
Working with Jordan Balandran, we picked out a shirt and bolo tie to rock for the day.
“I’m going to make you look like a Texan,” Balandran promised.
Even if I had the agricultural knowledge of a Yankee, I’d at least try to look the part of a Texan.
“Who would have thought Austin – cowboy boots would make such a great business,” Balandran rhetorically asked – as a steady crowd milled about throughout the store.
After about 20 minutes, we found our shirt and accompanying bolo tie to match our boots – and we were in business.
After making our way to the Rodeo, we went straight to the Livestock Show, where we met 16-year-old Kaitlyn Kempen, who hails from San Antonio.
She showed off her steer, Danny, who she first began taking care of a year ago.
“So he was really little then, he’s actually grown a lot. He’s probably gained 1,000 pounds since then,” said Kempen.
On average, the San Antonio teen spends three to four hours a day taking care of Danny – on top of her regular schoolwork and extracurriculars.
Her efforts were recognized after she was named Reserve Champion Braman steer for her performance.
“It’s really rewarding though to know all the hard work and time I put into Danny this year – I’m going to be rewarded in that matter,” Kempen explained.
While Rodeo Austin is by nature an entertainment event, its impact extends far past the fairgrounds.
Since it began in 1981, the Rodeo has awarded $7.5 million in scholarship funds to students.
While Kempen isn’t eligible for any of those funds this go-round, her success will help her raise money for the future.
“I actually want to become a large-animal veterinarian and major in biomedical science at Texas A&M,” said Kempen.
While the experience is rewarding enough, Kempen has made it a point to pass along her knowledge of the industry to others.
“Of course to see all these dedicated people, and to know where your food came from at that. I also did the school tours at San Antonio Stock Show and rodeo, and I got to tour around a bunch of little kids, and they had no idea where their food came from. They just thought HEB was where it came from, but this is where it all starts,” Kempen explained.
About 100 yards away, another performance – with a far different star- was taking place.
El Charro took the ring in front of a packed audience, in a show full of traditional Mexican dancing, horseback riding and reata.
Many in the stands were schoolchildren and their parents, taking advantage of Spring Break for the annual event.
Petting zoos provided children with a tactile opportunity to learn, feed and brush animals up close.
On the other end of the spectrum, vendors offered up their own slice of life.
“The ranchers, farmers and stuff –they really like the knives I make. Most of my knives are workable knives, though I do have display knives for the man cave and lady cave,” said Gray Wolf, who hails from Colorado.
As you guessed, he has a background in economics, continuing the time-honored tradition of trading in calculus for the cowboy lifestyle.
After chowing down on some Gebbe’s Barbeque, it was time to head back, and collect my thoughts from the day.
From Kempen to El Charro to Gray Wolf – all three offered completely unique perspective; all teaming up to show this Yankee in Texas what the Rodeo is all about.