There are a lot of things that can go wrong in a rodeo – everything from problems with the sound system or the chutes to injuries to the athletes. But on the opening night of the Cody Nite Rodeo, those problems were almost nonexistent.
“Everything went smoothly. Everyone did their job,” CNR stock contractor Maury Tate said.
Fans came from all over the country for opening night. At one point, the line snaked through the parking lot as people waited patiently to get in. It seemed nearly every state in the Union was represented between the cowboys and the crowd. From Texas to Ohio, from Alaska to Florida, there were contingents from almost every corner of the U.S.
“We’re in the ‘Rodeo Capital of the World,’” said Ashland, Mo., resident Drew Snyder. “We had to check it out.”
The Thomases made a pit stop at the rodeo on a cross-country road trip that started in Tennessee, their first time visiting Cody incomplete without a stop at the Greatest Show on Dirt.
“We don’t get real rodeo by us,” said Beth Thomas, the family matriarch.
Her boys, Carter, Austin and Jack, looked ready to get in the arena themselves with ropes at their feet, but they weren’t as interested in tie down or breakaway. They wanted to see the rough stock riders. Their father, Derrick, wanted to see a little of it all. Being at the rodeo reminded him of friends from his younger days who competed in the Tennessee high school circuit.
Visiting from Arkansas, the Greenway family had made the pilgrimage to America’s first national park, and on the way back into town, saw one of the banners hanging across a streets advertising for opening night.
“We can’t pass that up,” Cotton Greenway said.
Arkansas rodeos weren’t quite the same as the ones in Wyoming. The Greenway boys weren’t sure what they were hoping to see, but Cy, 11, had at least one idea.
“I just want to see someone hit the dirt.”
He didn’t have to wait long. The arena thundered as the rodeo kicked into high gear, bareback riders entering the chutes while rodeo clown Sid McFarland cracked wise about anything and everything. The first rider, Powell’s Nathan Cheney, couldn’t quite make it the full 8 seconds. He made up for it a while later on the junior bulls, notching a 77-point ride for the win.
“The stock isn’t as rank as what it may have seemed tonight,” Tate said. “Once these kids get to know these animals and get to learning them a little more, they’ll be good.”
Cheney was one of just three rough stock riders to make it the full 8 without a penalty. Brody Wells, a Texas college rider from Powell, posted the highest score of the evening in any of the rough stock events, notching an 85 on a saddle bronc named Bottle Rocket.
“I always like coming out to the first night,” Wells said. “There’s always a good crowd around here.”
The crowd was good. McFarland, a Montgomery, Ala., native, with a long history in Cody rodeo, played them just like any spectator would expect a clown with 47 years – and counting – of experience would. They knew when to cheer and when to clap, and it seemed like the entire arena flooded with children trying to earn a free frozen treat during the calf scramble.
The crowd wasn’t just into the rodeo. It was big.
“This is probably the biggest crowd I’ve ever seen on the first night,” said Stampede Board President Chad Ball.
The Nite Rodeo is an experience for the audience, big or small, something Tate does not forget.
“At the end of the day, the only thing that matters is that those people in the stands are entertained and these kids get a chance to show what they can do,” he said. “I don’t know how it could get better than this.”