Rodeo Austin pays homage to our heritage with a world-class livestock show and country music stars.
For many Central Texans, March doesn’t mean South by Southwest; it means Rodeo Austin, when even city folks—up to a quarter of a million each year—make a date with their inner cowboy or cowgirl to experience this exciting event. Tracing its origins to a 1938 stock show with 16 animals, Rodeo Austin has expanded into a two-week extravaganza, March 14–28 at the Travis County Exposition Center. Besides this main event, Rodeo Austin works all year to raise money for its successful scholarship program. Last year, the organization awarded more than $500,000 to 45 students from around the state.
With 15 livestock and horse shows in the Show Barn, visitors get a taste of everything related to raising animals like horses, goats, and chicken. The rodeo itself includes bareback-and saddle-bronc riding, tie-down calf roping, team steer roping, bull riding, and women-only barrel racing, along with the ever-popular sight of 6-year-olds fighting to stay atop sheep (also known as “mutton bustin’”). The riders come from towns all over Texas, including Azle, Vernon, Bartonville, and Waller, and from farther afield: Oklahoma, Wyoming, Iowa, and Alberta, Canada. All of them try to stay on the wildly bucking, rearing, twisting animals until the buzzer sounds. Riders call it eight seconds of eternity.
The fairground offers over 60 carnival rides and games, shopping for that perfect cowboy hat or boots, and, of course, eating: Indulge in all your favorite treats, including funnel cake, cotton candy, corn dogs, and even fried Coke. With its pig races and scaled-down rides, the Rockin’ A Ranch offers children younger than 12 a rodeo experience created just for them, and infants and tots can spend time at the petting zoo in Kidstown.
Although country music dominates the live music lineup, rock group Panic! at the Disco’s March 17 concert offers some variety. Among the bigger names set to perform are Dwight Yoakam (March 15) and Martina McBride (March 26).
“We’re unique in Austin,” says Michele Golden, a former Rodeo Austin board member (and its first Rodeo Queen in 1982). Although the rodeo gets many repeat visitors, Golden thinks it’s a particular must for newcomers to town. “There are so many folks coming in from all over the country and all over the world who have never seen a rodeo before. Austin is a special town, and [the rodeo] is a great Texas experience.” Rodeo Austin, March 14–28, Travis County Exposition Center, 7311 Decker Lane, 512-477-6060