Cowboy boots, late nights under the stars, and a myriad of deep-fried greasy foods. It’s that time of year again. The rodeo is back in town
By London Gibson
Rodeos have a long history in Texas. The Austin rodeo is one of the most influential in the state because it takes place in the capital of Texas, a state known for its rodeos. There are only a handful of professional rodeos in the state, Austin, Houston, and Fort Worth being the biggest. Just like longhorns, barbecue, and bluebonnets, rodeos have become a symbol of Texas culture.
Hundreds flocked to Austin’s Decker Lane to kick off rodeo season this past weekend. BBQ Austin, a barbecue cook-off and fair, filled the hot March air with the smell of delicious Texas-style barbecue. As country music’s top 40 played from every booth, crowds milled around tasting the competing meats, washing them down with ice cold beer and lemonade.
Although many come from far away for a true Texan experience, loyalists that come every year also made up a significant part of the crowd. For UT Graduate Clay Lasiter, this is not his first rodeo. He and his wife Barbara Lasiter sat people-watching, away from the hustle of the barbecue competition. Clay says, “We’ve been to the rodeo before, but this is our first time at the cook-off.”
Both Barbara and Clay enjoyed the free samples at the competing booths, but acknowledge that not every booth is up to par. After trying some sausage from a hopeful champion, the couple had mixed reviews. “Hers was a little chewy,” Clay admits, “but mine was great.” Barbara, less impressed with the cuisine of the cook-off, considers some classic carnival food. “There might be a soft pretzel in my future,” she hints.
The carnival, slung to the side of the cook-off, hosts a collection of classic, sugary carnival foods. Brightly colored signs advertised caramel apples, cotton candy, and even frozen cheesecake dipped in chocolate. Workers called out from within the booths as people walk by. Bill Kraus, simultaneously running a lemonade stand and balloon booth, called out, “Want some lemonade?”
Kraus is a rodeo and carnival veteran. This will be his fifth time working the Austin rodeo, and throughout the rest of the year he will travel across 6 different states with the carnival. To him, the carnival draws a diverse crowd and almost all of the people pass by Kraus’ lemonade stand.
“I love lemonade,” he says. “Everybody gets lemonade.” Kraus mixed lemonade with the same care as though he were mixing a cocktail, customizing it with just the right amount of sweetness and tartness for each customer. On whether or not lemonade should be considered the carnival beverage of choice, Kraus only says, “It’s an essential thing.”
A few minutes away, the band Electric Inferno, a trio of kids 11-14, rocked out to ACDC on the big stage. People crowded around, some taking photos and others lounging on the grassy hill enjoying a drink and a snack. Even though the music was intense with ACDC playing, the atmosphere was not. Everybody seemed to have come for the same reason: to relax.
At the end of the weekend, the BBQ Austin cook-off disassembled and shut down, but the carnival remains open until the end of the rodeo. When the rodeo officially began on Saturday, hundreds of people gathered under bright lights and crowd around a dusty arena. The Austin rodeo is one of America’s top ProRodeos, hosting a selection of the best athletes in the country.
High-profile musicians like Willie Nelson, Grouplove, Andy Grammer, Brett Eldredge, Josh Turner and the Eli Young band will be performing throughout the two weeks that the rodeo will be in town.
As a cultural capital, Austin attracts people from all kinds of backgrounds, and the Austin rodeo brings a touch of traditionalism to a city known for its wackiness