Tuesday, December 16, 2008

There was too much good stuff to let it all stay in Vegas

I was out of town last week, off playing hooky last week. I was in Las Vegas for the Wrangler National Finals Rodeo.

Before I get too far removed from the experience, I wanted to share a few of those experiences here.


I didn't take a computer along, but I did post some updates via cell phone of my activities at the National Finals on my personal Twitter page. I was disappointed to find out that those updates stopped posting to my Facebook page at midweek.


The rodeo action was, as always, the highlight of the week for me. This was the 50th anniversary performance. My parents have had tickets through a tour group for probably about 20 years now. The tickets are for the last 5 performances each year. I think the first time I went with them to the rodeo was in 1991 (I'd have to find where I've got previous years' programs stashed to confirm the date). I have been lucky to either go with them or meet them in Las Vegas nearly every year since 1994. I always try to see something or do something new every time I'm in Vegas, because there is so much to see and do there, and so many places I still haven't been. This year's trip was fill of firsts. We stayed at a new hotel this year, the South Point Hotel Casino.

I watched a screening Tuesday, Dec. 9, of a new documentary at the South Point's movie theater about the life of two of rodeo's stars of the 1980s -- bull rider Lane Frost and the bull Red Rock. The documentary, "The Challenge of Champions: The Story of Lane Frost and Red Rock", was recently released on DVD and it was shown in a special big-screen screening. It featured interviews with fellow cowboys and Frost's traveling partners Tuff Hedeman and Cody Lambert. Also featured prominently were Frost's parents, Clyde and Elsie Frost, and stock contractor John Growney of Growney Brothers Rodeo Company, who owned Red Rock.

The highlight of the screening was that John Growney and Clyde and Elsie Frosts answered questions and told stories about Frost and Red Rock after the screening. Well, to be honest, Elsie Frost and Growney did most of the talking as Clyde was the quite type. I don't think he said a word to the audience over the microphone. But as I was filing past the Frosts after the Q&A session, both Elsie and Clyde took time to shake hands and talk to those who greeted them and express their appreciation for people still being interested in their late son's story. It was an honor to shake Clyde and Elsie's hands and thank them for sharing their story with those of us in the audience and with the documentary film maker, David Wittkower.

The movie also features the song Red Rock by the Smokin' Armadillos, which I definitely need to add to my iPod.

Red Rock - Smokin Armadillos

Later in the week a ran into Growney in the elevator as I was going down to the casino from my room. I told him I appreciated the presentation he and the Frosts made after the movie screening. He was very polite and friendly, showing off his trademark smile.

You've got to love rodeo people, they are extremely friendly and approachable.


Speaking of approachable rodeo folks, I spotted the aforementioned Tuff Hedemen near one of the bar's in the South Point casino on Saturday night, Dec. 13. A couple of female fans were getting their picture taken with the retired bull riding champ.


Butch Knowles (right) behind the bucking chutes at the Pendleton Round-Up in 2005.

The group of farmers, ranchers and others I went to the rodeo with from Eastern Oregon were joined by another name, and face, familiar to rodeo fans on our return fright home from Las Vegas to Portland Sunday, Dec. 14. ESPN rodeo commentator Butch Knowles, a former NFR average winner in the saddle bronc riding, flew home with us and spent time talking with many of the folks in our tour group. Of course, some in our group knew Knowles before he his NFR days or his TV days. And some know him now as a rancher co-founder of Hermiston's Farm-City Pro Rodeo. One of the popular topics of conversation with Knowles appeared to he his nephew, Trevor Knowles, who finished fourth in the world standings in steer wresting, won or tied for first in the last four of 10 go-rounds at the NFR.

The reason I know at least part of what Knowles talked about to folks was because my dad, brother Dean and I say behind him (and talked with him a bit ourselves) on the flight to Portland. That is, we talked when we weren't sleeping. I don't know how much rest Knowles got in his 10-day broadcasting trip to Vegas, but I know I ended up pulling an all-nighter before our flight.


As if five nights of rodeo action weren't enough, I also watched some of the action at the World Series of Team Roping, which was held at the South Point's Equestrian and Events Center. There were literally hundreds of roping teams at the South Point for the event.


One of the other highlights of the week for me was getting to see some up-and-coming country musicians on the Academy of Country Music stage at the Cox Pavillion prior to the rodeo. In the lineup were The Carter Twins, Whitney Duncan, Randy Houser, Zac Brown Band and Jack Ingram.

Ingram was definitely the best known, and most popular with the female fans, but I count myself as a new fan of the Zac Brown Band, who definitely put on the best 45-minute show. Houser also had a strong performance. To be honest, I didn't stick around for much of the Carter Twins' performance. And I didn't catch all of Duncan's show, but she seems like she's still trying to find her voice and her sound.


I'm sure there's more, but I need to finish this post and call it a night.

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Photo J: Capturing the Moment