What if I told you that there was an event that went on for 20 days straight, at which you could see a different renowned performer every night? And real life cowboys and cowgirls? And you could eat all the great food your heart desires, everything from BBQ to Mexican food, and shop for clothes and ride great roller coasters and see the best livestock from around the state? Well, you can! All of this is in Houston through March 20 at the Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo.
I grew up in Houston, and we went to the Houston Rodeo every year. We looked so forward to going each year and seeing all the most popular performing artists, seeing the rodeo events, going to the carnival, going to the cookoff (which happens the weekend before) and going to the rodeo parade. Now I live in Louisville, KY, and the Houston Rodeo is comparable to going to the Kentucky Derby every day for three weeks, minus the betting.
Unlike the Derby, the Rodeo, which has been going strong since 1932, “was organized for charitable, educational and scientific purposes to encourage and promote the breeding, raising and marketing of better livestock and farm products at public fairs and to promote and maintain research and educational functions within the livestock industry.” Not only that, but this huge event, with an average of 2.5 million visitors over the course of three weeks, is also a non-profit organization, a charity that provides scholarships and supports youth and education, all with a specific agricultural distinction.
The Houston Rodeo needs to be on everyone’s bucket list. It is days of entertainment that cannot be replicated in any other city in the country. “It rivals as being one of the biggest productions in all rodeos,” says Alan Looney, owner of Nashville-based Castle Homes, who competed in rodeo for more than a decade when he was younger. “The entertainment from the rodeo events to country music concerts to the toughest living stock, it rivals some of the best in the rodeo world.”
The tickets are inexpensive (adult tickets start at $18) for all the entertainment and amenities you get. So if you’re convinced, head down to the best city in Texas for the Houston Rodeo, here’s what to do, what to eat and the most importantly, what to wear!
Houston is the third largest city in the nation. It could take you an hour just to get to the rodeo from the airport, and that area is all considered Houston. I suggest that if you are looking for a hotel to aim towards the Galleria or the Med Center, both not far from the Rodeo. The Rodeo is held at NRG Park and all the expansive property that surrounds it. To give you some perspective, I have run a 5K just around a couple of the parking lots of this stadium, and no we did not loop it twice.
This is a big deal in Houston. Everyone goes to the Rodeo, even if you have never ridden a horse or touched a cow, it transcends all walks of life. That being said, it is crowded, and the city is totally prepared for it. They say that the Rodeo is like a mini-city within Houston, and it certainly is.
Prepare to spend all day there and well into the night. There is so much to see and so much to do that you couldn’t possibly do it all in an afternoon. While the actual rodeo starts at 6:45 p.m., you need to get there around lunch if you really want to maximize the day.
Also, prepare to park a pretty good distance from the actual event. Another good option is to catch an Uber or a cab to the Rodeo and just take driving out of the picture for the evening.
What to Wear
It goes without saying that across the board, men and women wear boots and hats. But, you don’t have to go out and buy a whole Western outfit. People wear hats of all colors, but black and off-white (not known as “white,” but rather as “silver belly”) are the most popular. Usually, you buy one nice hat and wear it every night. Think about accessorizing with a hat band as well to change your look every night.
My Houston family and friends do not wear Western wear per se. They wear nice jeans, skirts or even leggings with boots. Ponchos and blanket wraps are very popular as well. Turquoise jewelry is de rigeur there, and the bigger the better. You could wear a nice white blouse, pair of jeans, a hat and throw on all the turqouise you can find, and your outfit is done. But remember, you are in Texas, so put on your lipstick on and fix your hair. That’s mandatory.
Also, just to assuage your fears, if you are without any of the above accoutrements for the Rodeo, they have a large shopping area on site where you could by just one part of your outfit or the entire thing, right there.
What to Eat
The food court and concessions at the Rodeo is straight-up fair food. This means the menu consists of anything fried (Oreos, ice cream, etc.), and other delicacies such as pizza on a stick and nachos. Venture outside to the tents, where all of Houston’s best restaurants have set up booths. DO NOT MISS Pappasitos for Mexican food and Goode Company for Barbecue. You’re welcome on the tips; you have not lived until you have had their food.
Plan Your Day
Arrive around lunch time, and find the food first (see above on where to eat).
After lunch, enjoy shopping and touring through the livestock show, where Houston’s finest animals are all on display. After your lunch settles, head over to the carnival to ride rides and play games. There are huge, full-size rollercoasters, so don’t expect a little carnival ride. This will all take many hours, as there is so much spread out around this property to see and do.
Eat dinner and be prepared to be in your seats by 6:30 p.m. at the latest. The Grand Entry starts promptly at 6:45 p.m., with all the Rodeo directors, committee and carriages with other people of distinction. The Rodeo starts at 7 p.m. and lasts for an exciting two hours. First comes mutton bustin’, where little kids ride sheep and see how long they can last. They do wear helmets and special vests for this event, but there is nothing funnier than a little kid busting out of the chute on a sheep.
Next comes myriad other rodeo competitions, including old classics such as barrel racing, bull riding, bareback riding and herding, all showcasing the best of the best in their respective fields. Be sure to notice the clowns, who are carefully coaxing the animals, especially the bulls, around the ring.
And then the icing on the cake, the concert begins at 9 p.m. and lasts until about 11 p.m. With new headlining acts every night, it’s hard to pick a night to not attend.
It’s not all country musicians that perform at the Rodeo. I’ve seen Beyoncé, Kool & The Gang, Selena and Earth, Wind & Fire all at the Rodeo. Concert attendance averages 75,000 people per show, with the number one days being the “Go Tejano” days each year. Check out this incredible lineup for the 2016 Rodeo (in chronological order, starting March 1):
- The Band Perry
- Chris Young
- Jason Aldean
- Jason Derulo
- Shawn Mendes
- Miranda Lambert
- Brett Eldridge
- Luke Bryan
- Darius Rucker
- Billy Currington
- Go Tejano Day: Los Huracanes del Norte and Banda Los Recoditos
- Kenny Chesney
- Kid Rock
- Jake Owen
- Florida Georgia Line
- Little Big Town
- Brad Paisley
- Keith Urban
You would have a hard time picking a night NOT to go!
So there you have it! It’s a truly Southern event, and one everyone should experience at least once. In fact, writing this post has made me homesick. And hungry. Next year, I’m definitely going back!