Congressman Ted Poe (TX-02)
I don’t know if it was planned this way, but this month marks the beginning of my favorite stretch of time in Texas history and it just so happens to coincide with another great Texas event – the Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo. On March 2nd we celebrated Texas’ declaration of independence and on March 6th, we remembered the day the defenders of the Alamo fell. That same week, the Houston Livestock Show kicked off its 77th season and well over a million people from all over the world will flock to Reliant Park to take part in this Texas tradition.
Every year, I saddle up and ride in the rodeo parade and pray that the unlucky horse assigned to me is on his last rodeo! And, I am glad to say that both my horse and I survived another year. There is something special about all the pomp and circumstance that takes place on the streets of downtown Houston. The parade still marches down Texas Avenue just as the early trial riders did in the first parade. You may not have noticed, but Texas Avenue is wider than other streets downtown. This was to accommodate the early longhorn cattle drives coming into town. So to have the rodeo parade follow this same path only adds to its historic tradition.
The Salt Grass Trial Ride is the oldest trial ride in the parade. It started with four Texans riding in from Catspring to join the parade in downtown and the tradition has grown to 13 separate trial rides and over 4000 riders. I can assure you I don’t ever see thousands of trail riders in downtown Washington, DC – even when we did have a Texan in the White House.
Before the parade, I was talking to my good friend Bill Bailey and told him that I wished everyday was “rodeo.” People are all dressed like I like, everyone is polite and there is a feeling of Texas pride like no other time. Now, you may not immediately recognize the name Bill Bailey, but I can assure you that you know his voice. Aside from his day job as Harris Countable Constable serving Precinct 8, he is a lifetime Vice President, Board Member and the voice that is synonymous with the rodeo. For me, the rodeo just wouldn’t be the same without hearing Bill give his unique play-by-play of the calf scramble and Grand Entry. It would be like watching bull riding without hearing Donny Gay call some unlucky cowboy a “yard dart” or “giving them the ole’ shish kabob treatment” – it just wouldn’t be the same.
But, Bill is just one of 21,000 volunteers serving on 100 different committees that give of their time and service to the Show. I do not know of another event of this caliber that is almost completely run by this many volunteers. On average each person volunteers about 68 hours of service equaling $27 million in pay annually. And because of those volunteers, the Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo has committed $235 million in scholarship and educational support to area youth – 50 percent going to minority recipients.
The Show is known all around the world and no offense to the fellas over at the circus, but it is the “Greatest Show on Earth.” The Show is the world’s largest livestock exhibition, world’s largest barbeque cook-off, world’s richest regular-season rodeo and the entertainment line-up is nothing to sneeze at either. Matter of fact, back in the 1980s this little known singer got a last minute call to fill in for Eddie Rabbit one night and from then on he never looked back. You might have heard of him? George Strait. And there were a few others you may have heard of too: Elvis Presley, Roy Rogers, Gene Autry and one of my all-time favorites, Charlie Pride – who performed 37 times at the Show.
What started out as an idea by a handful of men at the Texas State Hotel in 1931 for a Fat Stock show has grown into a multi-million dollar event that it is today; bringing in $345 million dollars to the Houston Metro area. That’s a bright spot on an otherwise struggling economy.
The first Show, known then as the Houston Fat Stock Show and Livestock Exhibition, was held at the Democrat Convention Hall in 1931 – there were no republicans here back then, so I guess it was aptly named. The Show then moved to the Sam Houston Coliseum in 1938 and the first rodeo contest and parade made their grand entry. I grew up going to the rodeo at the Coliseum, but it wasn’t nearly as hard to move to the Eighth Wonder of the World as it was to say good-bye to the Dome.
On March 3, 2002, over 68,000 rodeo-goers sang their good-byes with that same little known singer who got his start on that very stage, George Strait, as the “Cowboy Rode Away.” It was the all-time paid attendance record for any event ever held in Astrodome. The very next year, George ushered in a new era in Reliant Stadium.
I would like to thank all those people that support the Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo, whether as a volunteer, local Go Texan member, or youth livestock participant – your dedication and service goes far beyond the three weeks of the Show. It’s a cultural celebration for us in Texas. Kind of like our Mardi Gras, just with boots and cowboy hats. I hope you can make it out to the Show, there is truly something for everyone. After all, it’s your cultural duty to do so.
And that’s just the way it is – y’all.