By: Veronica Burniston
The Mountain Heritage Days Rodeo kicked off September 13th and 14th within the gorgeous folds of Doe Valley, Tennessee. With a strong line-up of events, such as Mutton Bustin and Barrel Racing, the show had both Johnson County natives and visitors as lassoed as the calves in the Calf-Roping event. Beginning with a patriotic tribute and ending with the anticipated bull-riding event, this years rodeo brought the county not only a good dose of family-friendly entertainment but an experience of past, present, and future generations of good old country fun.
Hosted by the Johnson County Chamber of Commerce and North American Rodeo Association, the Mountain Heritage Days Rodeo has provided Johnson County with a taste of country culture for over 25 years. From its humble beginning in Ralph Stout Park, the rodeo has attracted a steady audience and now takes place annually in Chamber Park. For years the rodeo has served as a successful fundraiser for many of the festivals and events in Mountain City (fireworks in the park, funding the Welcome Center, etc.). And, sponsored by many local businesses, it gives this part of beautiful eastern Tennessee a tradition of its own, a tradition that breathes life into the mountains and valleys of Johnson County, a tradition of pure country.
Starting at six p.m., Chamber Park was aflutter with vendors and families, not to mention plenty of cowboys and cowgirls dressed aptly for the coming event. Despite the slight chill in the air, the wooden bleachers were filled with children cradling their deep-fried Oreos and funnel cakes, and parents holding tight to their coffee, hoping to warm their fingers. After the announcer delivered his short introduction, the entire crowd stood as the American Flag was brought into the arena by one of the female riders. As the flag circled through the arena, the song Ragged Old Flag by the American country music legend Johnny Cash played over the speakers. Released by Columbia Records in 1974, Ragged Old Flag is known as Cashs tribute to patriotism during the time of the Watergate Scandal. Its a song of reverence and hope for the red, white, and blue, despite the fiery trials that have plagued the United States in the last two centuries. Although the moment quickly passed, the removing of hats and great respect shown for the flag was a wonderful sight, a reminder of the freedom many take for granted, and a love for the almost forgotten roots of this country and its flag.
Following the tribute, the announcer led the audience through a prayer before the rodeo got under way. Then the show came to life with bronco riding, calf-roping, trick riders, barrel racing, mutton bustin (which involved five-and six-year-olds barreling across the arena on sheep), bull riding, and the calf scramble where children raced after the scurrying calves for the prize ribbon. The rodeos participants, like the audience, came from several different states: North Carolina, South Carolina, and Tennessee. They exhibited not only skill in the saddle but also in the roping event and the much anticipated bull riding.
The clang of muscle and horns against the metal pens sent waves of excitement through the audience as the riders climbed atop their bulls. Most of the rides lasted only seconds, but they were long seconds as the bulls bucked and veered, trying to unseat their riders. Two young riders managed to ride their bulls for over eight seconds, which may not seem very long unless youre the one riding the bull.
The show ended around 10:30 p.m., leaving the audience to depart beneath an open, starry sky. And despite the cold, almost autumn weather, families were laughing and friends exchanging goodbyes as they climbed into their vehicles and left the park. It had been a long night sitting in those bleachers, watching the bronco and bull riders, the ropers and barrel racers, but it had also been an unmistakably good night. Once again, the rodeo delivered something special to Johnson County, a gift of happiness and amusement, as well as a gift of courage and skill. Perhaps the rodeo itself was a gift, a reminder of what it means to be a true cowboy.
If youre interested in learning more about the Johnson County Chamber of Commerce and the upcoming events taking place in Johnson County, visit their website at http://johnsoncountytnchamber.org.