Colter Ellis is a man of many hats.
When he’s not competing in rodeo, ski instructing or living the life of a normal high schooler, Ellis, 17, helps run music at Cody Nite Rodeo.
“It’s been going great, it really has,” he said.
For the past two summers, Ellis has been assisting with the music operations at the rodeo grounds.
Like any music gig there’s tried and true songs that get played every night, but a certain amount of the playlist is situation dependent.
“What I’m doing is I’m picking my song based on my placement of where the rider is,” he explained. “If it’s the first rider out, then the intensity’s going to be really high. If it’s kind of like the middle of the event we can bring it down a little bit.
“You’re staying in tune with the audience, but at some points you’re just guiding them and at some points they’re feeding off you.”
From saddle bronc to calf roping each individual event demonstrates a rise and fall that he must harness with proper song selection.
On a recent night a Texas competitor took center stage, so Ellis played “Miles and Miles of Texas” by Asleep at the Wheel.
“You kind have that stall time,” he said. “And then you’re back to your barrel racing, OK bring it back up. Now you have the junior barrel racers, maybe bring it back down a little more. And then you have bull riding. Bam!”
Ellis got his start working production at youth rodeos in Montana about four years ago, under Josh Linebaugh. After moving up to announcing and music with Robert Howell for Little Britches Rodeo, Ellis was given an opportunity to run music at the Nite Rodeo from Nikki and Maury Tate.
“That was a huge break,” Colter’s mom, Melanie Ellis said.
On a nightly basis Ellis gets instruction from and assists Nite Rodeo announcer Zane Parker, as the two now have done about 150 shows together.
“For someone who was pretty green production-wise at the start he’s done pretty remarkable,” Parker said.
At 17 years old, Ellis is younger than the average sound man, but he hasn’t let that get in his way. His dad Larry Ellis said although the Nite Rodeo starts at 8 p.m. each night, Ellis typically shows up about two hours beforehand to organize his music and communicate with the rodeo clowns about song management.
“The kid is obsessive about getting better,” Parker said.
Ellis has been mentored by PRCA Announcer Ben Benavides and sound technician Drew Taylor, connections that will likely pay off for him down the road.
Ellis also dusts off his vocal cords from time to time, having announced competitions at Sleeping Giant Ski Area and three different Nite Rodeos in June. He is preparing to announce another five performances this Wednesday through Sunday.
Rarely taking a night off, he understands the opportunity the Cody Nite Rodeo presents him.
“It’s the only place in the world that has this caliber of competition that you can just practice on,” Ellis said. “It’s a place you can fine-tune yourself so much and when you’re able to go into PRCA.”
When he’s not pressing “play” in the audio booth Colter can usually be found down in the rodeo arena. He won a Little Britches Rodeo Association Big Sky region overall title earlier this summer, winning team roping, calf roping and ribbon roping.
He said he’ll never forget a day when he was 6 and was playing with his Tonka truck, when his parents asked him if he wanted to saddle up. His answer is now obvious, the winner of 12 junior state rodeo championships and a 10th place nationals performance in goat tying in 2016.
“It’s (rodeo) like the backbone of my existence,” he said. “It’s something I’ve always been associated with. Just being raised in this western culture on different ranches across the state.”
He also won a Wyoming state title in trap shooting through the National High School Rodeo Association this summer.
When preparing to pull his gun at the flying clay pigeons, Ellis has a set routine he performs each time.
“Keep my cheek down, just focusing on that bird,” he said. “Just relying on your subconscious to kick in and to allow you to shoot the way you’ve been shooting before the event.”
But he said the biggest factor that helps him is the visualization aspect. As his competitors take their shots, he visualizes himself shooting their clay birds, timing out his shot, just as he cues up his music.
“When it was my turn, I’ve already shot five times just in my head,” he said. “That really helped me a lot.”
Ellis said he is most passionate about calf and team roping but cannot deny the financial security that announcing provides.
“I can go to these rodeos and get a guaranteed paycheck and I can also bring my horse and enter up in slack,” he said. “It’s honestly the best deal.”
Recently Ellis found out he will be teaching abroad. In October he’ll travel to Australia to provide teaching seminars on rodeo music, based off his Nite Rodeo repertoire.
“That kid is going to go a long ways,” Parker said. “He will probably have just as much work in rodeo as he wants.”