For my first rodeo and country concert, I would settle for nothing but the best.
Jumping on the bandwagon — not to be confused with a chuckwagon — I bought tickets to Cheyenne Frontier Days, the largest outdoor rodeo and Western celebration in the world.
Around the bustling festival grounds, belt buckles, programs and T-shirts were boldly inscribed with “Daddy of ‘em All” — a fitting name for a rodeo that started with a cowboy roundup in 1897. The rodeo drew 101,462 attendees this year, and 115,214 people came for the evening shows.
My posse and I arrived in Cheyenne a bit apprehensive, as heavy rain three days earlier had Eric Church concertgoers boot-soaked and barefoot — ankle-deep in muddy water. We hoped we would hear Kip Moore and Dierks Bentley with dry feet.
Prolonged sunshine dried the public spaces for the Saturday rodeo and concert. The cowboys weren’t as lucky, though.
Large puddles of slushy mud still were scattered across the stadium grounds in early afternoon. Steer wrestlers, tie-down ropers and many unlucky bronc and bull riders slid their chaps in the muck. The coats of many small steers took on a new color after a thick dipping.
A few cowboys made a comedic show, intentionally dropping into the puddles. One rider flopped down and mimicked a “snow angel” motion, much to the audience’s delight.
As with any sporting event, the live excitement far surpassed anything captured on video. The animals’ muscles rippled as they were roped, wrangled and ridden, and the might of the competing cowboys was incomparable. Clearly, bareback riders and saddle bronc riders are magical, gravity-defying beings.
The best riders must be in firm control to win, yet their bodies appear loose and rubbery, their limbs flying with the bucking animal in terrifying fashion.
An 11-year-old cowboy rode a bucking miniature horse like a pro, evidently a family tradition and rite of passage.
Cowboys walked away with championship titles and large sums of prize money.
Had I earned a prize for anything in Cheyenne, it’d be for how quickly I lost my voice singing along with Kip Moore and Dierks Bentley that evening.
I’m new to country music but no stranger to concerts. I opted for the Party Zone — “not for the faint of heart,” the website warned. I tend to prefer the messy, sweaty, standing-room-only shows. A gaggle of grumpy fans in front of me seemed ready to defend their space to the death, using scowls and harsh words in trying to preserve arm’s-length space. Once a crowd gets fired up, though, people pack in like sardines to get closer to the action.
If you choose the Party Zone, you’re consenting to at least six points of contact with your neighbors. If you’d rather sit on your high horse, it’s best to invest in a seat.
The initial space-wars were worth it though, because Kip Moore was fantastic and Dierks Bentley has a special place in my heart. Like me, he’s an Arizona native. The first three of his four locations of Dierks Bentley’s Whiskey Row opened in the Grand Canyon State.
He dedicated his song “Riser” to the 19 Granite Mountain Hotshots killed in the 2013 Yarnell Hill fire near Prescott, Ariz. Some of the hotshots’ families were in the audience, he said.
Bentley formed a special connection with Coloradans, too. His latest album, “The Mountain,” was almost entirely written and recorded in Telluride.
He played songs old and new, including crowd favorites, “5-1-5-0,” “Free and Easy,” “What Was I Thinkin’” and “Somewhere on a Beach.” He closed with an encore performance of “Drunk on a Plane.”
In signature Bentley fashion, he shot-gunned a beer on stage with an audience member, a stunt I definitely haven’t seen at an indie-rock show.
Fittingly, he indulged his affinity for mountains before leaving Wyoming. The day after the action-packed show, he was climbing the Grand Tetons, posting an Instagram photo with the hashtag “itwasonlyamountain.”
Bentley shared his special love for Cheyenne Frontier Days, and it’s clear why the celebration is the town’s pride and joy. With all its exciting events, you’re sure to get your bucks’ worth.