Asher on Aspen: Shaking off the dust
Asher on Aspen
The air was thick with the stench of livestock and barbecue but I didn’t mind. A sea of flannel, jean jackets and lavish belt buckles decorated the patrons who stood in front of me. The line for food was long but no one seemed to care. Everyone had this “might as well meet your neighbors” sort of mentality. A wildly enthusiastic announcer boomed over the loudspeaker alerting the crowd that the Snowmass Rodeo was about to begin. There was no rush, and certainly no sense of urgency.
As I stood there waiting for my pulled pork and coleslaw, I glanced around and spotted a familiar face. With a cracked half-smile of nostalgia, I couldn’t seem to look away. “Hey! It’s that singing cowboy,” I thought to myself. “He’s still at it! Good for him.” Children look up in awe as he belts out “Country Roads” and numerous other timeless country-western tunes that remind us of simpler times. The friendly cowboy troubadour made the wait for food a bit more bearable.
The food appeared right as the rodeo began. I set my fork down and stood up — placing my right hand over my heart. This moment has always intrigued me. This moment in the midst of total chaos where people stop mid-conversation, freeze what they’re doing and direct their attention to the person courageous enough to stand there and belt out our country’s anthem. Everyone shuts up to pay respect for just a minute and I swear I get the chills every time — I love it so much.
Aside from the main events (saddle bronc, bull riding, team roping and barrel racing), I think the real spectacle is the one that unfolds around you. I turn away from the arena for a moment and I see what looks to be, what I can only imagine to be, a Kappa Delta reunion. A group of women dressed to the nines in glamorous quintessential cowboy attire eagerly hunt for someone to stop and take their picture. A teenage boy takes the bait and falls into their trap. “Vertical please! Sorry, can you just move the camera a little higher?” remarks one of the women. Even if you have no interest in watching cowboys hang onto bulls for eight-second rides, I highly implore you to attend this rodeo — solely based on the people-watching.
Juxtaposed to the sorority gathering is what looks to be a 10-year-old boy determined to master one of the roping demonstrations. His friends are over by the Sweet Adventures shack but he has no interest in candy when there is a plastic bull to be roped. Kids run wild here. Scurrying between the petting zoo, candy shop, bounce house, mechanical bull and marshmallow roast, the kids are easily kept occupied.
Just when parents thought it couldn’t get any better, the kids are invited to participate in mutton busting and the epic calf scramble. Mutton busting is this hilarious spectacle where children ride on the back of sheep, holding on for as long as they can. The calf scramble consists of dozens and dozens of children who run aimlessly around the arena attempting to catch a calf and grab the ribbon off its tail. I’m pretty sure the parents enjoy watching this more than the kids enjoy participating. It’s quite a sight to see.
The buzzer rings and the bull is released from the chute. There’s a moment of silence. I whip my head around to catch the tail end of a cowboy being stepped on after getting bucked off. The crowd’s moans of sympathy echoed throughout. “It’s the cowboy’s responsibility to get out of the way,” the announcer candidly says. The competitive nature of the cowboy is no doubt admirable, but yikes, this is brutal.
About half way through, the announcer abruptly stops the events to call out the lucky winner of “Chicken Shit Bingo.” That’s right. You read that correctly: Chicken Shit Bingo.
“For only $2 a square, you could win $80!” reads a cardboard sign written out in black permanent marker. My mother would roll her eyes at the notion of people betting on which square of the Bingo board a chicken will poop on. “Gross!” I can hear her voice now.
Everything is just a little bit simpler down at the Snowmass Rodeo. The flip-flop first-timers return home with dust-covered toes. Avid rodeo-goers swap stories about the event winners while brushing off their boots and exiting the arena. The real old-fashioned, small-town, family-friendly mentality is contagious. It seems to be the simple traditions and oddities of life that have people coming back year after year. Colorado’s Western spirit lives on at this weekly Wednesday summer event. Celebrating its 46th season, the Snowmass Rodeo is the longest running rodeo in Colorado. Clearly, they’re doing something right.
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This summer the Aspen Music Festival is emphasizing this discovery track more than before, as the 2021 season marks the launch of its initiative to spotlight diverse composers who identify as AMELIA (African-American, Middle Eastern, Latin, Indigenous, and Asian).