The Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo is an institution in Houston, it is the largest Rodeo in the world and in operation since 1931. Held at the NRG Stadium (home to the NFL team the Houston Texans), the Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo attracts more than two million people each year and operates over 20 days in March. The daily Livestock Show is a great place to get an up close look at the animals before they select the best in show. The event also holds the World Championship barbecue contest as well as nightly world class rodeo and concerts with artists like Ariana Grande, Tim McGraw, John Legend, Fall Out Boy and the Zac Brown Band.
Upon arrival at the NRG Stadium (approximately a 20 minute drive from Houston downtown area) you will greeted by the huge area that houses the Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo. The Livestock Show is a day event that is held in the many halls of NRG Center. Within these halls you will find exhibitions on cattle, dairy cattle, sheep, goats, poultry, bees, a petting zoo for kids and my favourite the rabbits. All different breeds of rabbit were on display including the giant rabbit which looked more like a small dog than anything else. Also, there was a display to show kids how a chick hatches from an egg to how it matures to a full grown chicken. Most of these animals are cared for by students from the local institutions. Another aspect of the Livestock show is the judging competition for different age groups where farmers of cattle, dairy cattle, sheep, goats, llamas and alpacas compete for prizes.
Another aspect of the Livestock Show and Rodeo is the Champion Wine Garden, where wines from all over the world are judged and the prestigious Rodeo Uncorked International Wine Competition is held. The Champion Wine Garden also has a live music stage and is set in a garden location away from the hustle and bustle of the Livestock Halls.
If dancing country style is your thing there is a section of the Livestock Show and Rodeo called The Hideout. It’s basically a large dance floor inside a huge white tent and features local musicians playing – you guessed it – country music where you can boot scootin’ boogie to some of your favourite country and western hits. Look for the large white tent near the Astrodome.
The one thing you cannot miss at the Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo is the many food halls and food stalls dotted throughout the area. The many food centres serve authentic Texas fare such as BBQ meats (beef brisket, pulled pork, chopped beef, sausage and turkey)and Tex Mex style meals (tacos, burritos etc). The star attraction in my opinion is the giant turkey legs. It’s utterly enormous and utterly delicious. Not for the faint hearted!
I’ve outlined the Livestock component, but the real reason everyone is here (dressed in their Stetsons and cowboy boots) is the Rodeo Houston. A nightly performance in the 75,000 capacity NRG Stadium, some of the world’s best rodeo athletes compete in events like barrel racing, bareback riding, bull riding, saddle bronc riding, steer wrestling, team roping and my favourite event to see – tie-down roping.
It’s fast and frenetic and some events are over in seconds (tie down roping). All the athletes are competing for prize money and points to compete in the major event called ‘RODEO HOUSTON SUPER SHOOTOUT’, where the best performers throughout the Rodeo compete against each other for prize money. In addition to the professional Rodeo, we also have the kids competing in the calf scramble and mutton bustin’. Adorable kids chase and try and bring down a calf in the Calf Scramble and they try and hang on tight in the Mutton Bustin. Both are crowd favourites and are a great way for the next generation or Rodeo performers to get their ear wet.
The night ends with a huge arena concert with a star performer. The night I attended the performer was US country artist Zac Brown Band. Over 70,000 fans packed into the NRG Stadium and a rotating stage is placed in the middle of the rodeo arena. The concert begins with a rousing rendition of the US national anthem and a prayer for the show. Then it’s lights out for Zac Brown Band. The seven piece band from Atlanta, Georgia hit the rotating stage to a fireworks display and started with a new track called “Homegrown” from their upcoming album Jekyll + Hyde. This was Zac Brown Band’s fifth consecutive appearance at the Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo and it shows why they are a crowd favourite.
From playing crowd favourites “Sic Em on a Chicken” to the ballad “Cold Weather”, Zac Brown Band delivered on what their rodeo fans wanted to hear. Mixed in with covers of “Enter Sandman” sung by guitarist John Driskell Hopkins and Queen’s “Bohemian Rhapsody” shows Zac Brown Band’s versatility and stage command and of course had the whole stadium head banging along to the guitar solos. The night ended with “Chicken Fried” and it had the aisles filled with dancing couples. All up it was a classy performance from a band that knows its audience well and is in top form.
All up a visit to the Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo is well worth a visit. From learning about the way of life on the cattle ranches of Texas to the fantastic food on offer to the excitement and skill level of the Rodeo to the glitz and glamour of the nightly concert, there is something there for everyone. Don’t forget to bring your Stetson and cowboy boots!