Cowboys wait for their turn to ride at the Spur’n S Rodeo at Chamber Park in Mountain City. Photos by Dan Cullinane.
By Dan Cullinane
When the bucking chutes clang open on Friday and Saturday night at Chamber Park, and the bulls and broncs hurtle into the arena, a potent blend of excitement and tradition will resonate throughout the bystanders. It’s a small town Saturday night kind of thing. A get with your buddies, grab a cold drink and some hot barbecue kind of thing. A settle down on the grass with your girl under the stars kind of thing.
“Maybe it’s trouble, maybe it’s not,” Ryan Patton, a bull rider since high school, said, laughing. “Boys and girls in the country, they’re waiting for Saturday night., everybody knows everybody no matter where you go.”
Up in the bleachers or on the fences by the bucking chutes, it’s all the same at the rodeo; a collective love of adrenaline-fueled man vs. beast competition, but it’s something more. Something hard to put the finger on but strongly in the air all the same. Veteran bull rider Dave Birchfield chalks it up to the frontier spirit still lurking in our blood.
“Rodeo makes you feel like you have freedom,” he said. “Cowboys were rough and tough, and they were free. They weren’t controlled by anyone. They did what their hearts felt like they wanted to do.”
Sure, rodeo rings the bells of the cowboy dreams of little boys and girls from coast to coast, but perhaps it is more than the lonesome rider images brought to mind as the evening sun slants through the dust in the arena. It’s the magnetic camaraderie of the cowboys and cowgirls who take their turn in the spotlight and then clamber up onto the fence to cheer on their competition.
“We’re not just a bunch of boys out there,” Patton said. “It’s a family. It’s in our blood.”
It better be, according to Richfield, because this is not a get rich and famous sport. “You’re going to go home broke more than you go home with money. You’re going to go home sore. You might go home hurt, even if it’s just your pride.”
That pretty much eliminates the posing and posturing that has marred athletics for years and fueled divisiveness and disgust among bystanders. There isn’t room for it in rodeo, which Birchfield attributed to heritage.
“We stand for the National Anthem, and we kneel for the prayer because we represent a tradition that we’re carrying on from our ancestors way back, and they’re living through us because of what we do today.”
You may even find a part of yourself on Saturday night. So come on out on Friday, September 10, and Saturday, September 11, to Chamber Park and feel the tradition. Gates open at 6 p.m., and the action begins at 8 p.m.
For more information, visit the Johnson County Chamber of Commerce website at johnsoncountytnchamber.org.