BY CHUCK VANDENBERG
FORT MADISON - The hard work for the year is over for 2021 Tri State Rodeo Chairman Tony Johnson.
And although his days are still long for the next seven days, he's enjoying the fruits of what is really almost two years of work. The Tri-State Rodeo's Ready to Rodeo kicked off Saturday as Johnson meandered around C.E. "Eddie" Richards Arena and talked to volunteers, kids, and families at the annual Pancake Breakfast, and the Special Kids Rodeo.
Johnson said the Special Kids Rodeo is one of the most memorable things he'll take with him from his time as chairman.
"That's just a great event to be a part of. It's probably the most rewarding thing we do."
Saturday's attendance was down a bit from previous years, but Johnson said that's probably still due to the vulnerabilities of the those who typically come out for the event. The pandemic forced the cancellation of last year's rodeo.
Mentors and volunteers usher children and adults alike with disabilities to experience horse rides, barrel riding, roping and calf riding for several hours as MC Craig Kelly, who's also this year's Tri State Rodeo Parade Grand Marshal, runs around getting everyone a turn on the microphone, including the kids and adults.
Lisa Woods has been running the event for almost two decades as this is the 20th year of setting aside time on the Saturday before Rodeo at the rodeo grounds to welcome those physically and mentally challenged.
Johnson said ticket sales have been brisk. A check on Thursday showed the Wednesday night Cinch Shoot-out almost sold out. But Johnson said walk-up sales will probably be better than ever as people are anxious to get back to the rodeo.
Campers have been rolling down 15th Street from the Hwy. 61 bypass all week and the grounds are teeming with people who are taking an extended Labor Day weekend to watch some of the best cowboy action in the Midwest. You could take that a step further with it being one of the top outdoor rodeos in the country.
"Obviously not having 2020 we really don't have anything to compare it to for last year. But we are right in line and maybe just a hair above of 2019 and that was great year. If we can match those it's going to be a very successful year for the rodeo," Johnson said
"If we can be on the pace of 2019 we'll be happy with that. We'll see a lot of walk up sales this year. People are waiting to see what the weather is like, just like they always do. So let's hope the rain stays away."
After Saturday's Special Kids Rodeo and breakfast, Sunday is the feedbag night, where people can come in for a chili supper from 5:30 to 7 p.m. sponsored by Fareway.
Then Monday is a full day of Ready to Rodeo excitement with the super popular Lil' Spurs Rodeo kicking off at 10 a.m. and running most of the afternoon, followed by the Hy-Vee Pork Supper and then the pageantry of the Lil Miss Rodeo and All-Around Cowboy competition at 6:30 on the south side of the rodeo arena.
Pageant Chair Trishia Eaves-Fedler said this year's event has more candidates than ever and the show promises to be full of unique talents and showmanship.
Tuesday is the Pee Wee barrel qualifiers at the Saddle Club Arena starting at 4:30 p.m. and then the professional rodeo action gets underway Wednesday with the action-packed CINCH Chute-Out.
Thursday through Saturday is the regular PRCA Rodeo action brought by Cervi Rodeo. The buckin', ropin' and ridin' action gets underway at 7 p.m. Thursday is Tough Enough to Wear Pink Night and then Nelly hits the stage.
'Who doesn't know who Nelly is?," Johnson said. "We kind of took an unfortunate situation (in last year) when an act cancelled on us at the last minute. This was an opportunity we thought we should take and obviously it's not full-on country, but he does some cross-over stuff with Florida-Georgia Line."
The rodeo got another small setback this year when Mark Chestnut cancelled due to a back issue, but the rodeo's talent agent went to work and secured Tyler Rich, who fits into Friday's 90's theme.
"He's kind of an up-and-comer but fits that theme well. He's got three or four singles charted and has another out right now. He's gonna do a good show and will open for David Lee Murphy. He did fill in for Mark about a month ago somewhere else to a very good reception," Johnson said.
Saturday's wrap up night following the Tri-State Rodeo Parade Saturday morning, will carry a military and first responder theme due to the day falling on the 20th Anniversary of 9/11.
"Everybody active military or retired will get a free ticket and then the local law enforcement agencies and first responders will be catching Billy Reid's flag as he comes in out of the sky," Johnson said.
Cole Swindell will be the main stage entertainment Saturday. The Bud Light Stockyard is the location for all the post main stage music.
Rodeo buttons can be purchase on site for all the Ready to Rodeo events. Tickets for the nightly performances can be purchased at the ticket window on the southeast corner of the rodeo grounds, or online at the following link: https://www.tristaterodeo.org/
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