By Laura Latzko, February 2016 Issue.
Each February, rodeo weekend beckons cowboys and cowgirls from around the country back to the Wild, Wild West to kick off a new season of competition.
For competitors, the Arizona Gay Rodeo is the first of the year in the International Gay Rodeo Association (IGRA) circuit. For spectators, it’s a weekend filled with events and entertainment. (Read more in “Country Idol 2016” here.)
The 31st annual Arizona Gay Rodeo will take place from Feb. 12 to 14, at the Corona Ranch and Rodeo Grounds in Laveen, Ariz.
According to Todd Wyckoff, AGRA president, the goal is to get different groups of the LGBTQ community involved with the rodeo.
“The biggest thing that we are trying to work on is letting people know that rodeo is not just for people who compete,” he said. “It’s really a great time to come out and hang out at the rodeo grounds.”
According to Arizona Gay Rodeo Association coordinators, two of the major additions this year include a Grammy nominated headliner and a free pool party.
“We are extremely honored and excited to announce [that] headlining at the 31st annual Arizona Gay Rodeo [is] Grammy-nominated and Dove Award-winning multiplatinum country artist Ty Herndon,” said Richie Josef, Arizona Gay Rodeo Association entertainment director.
Herndon and special guest, singer-songwriter Anita Cochran, will take the rodeo stage on the evening of Feb. 13 (Saturday), and the concert is included with rodeo admission.
Additionally, a free rodeo weekend kick off pool party, featuring DJ Mic Mixxers, will take place at from 1 to 7 p.m. Feb. 12 (Friday) at Hotel 502 in Phoenix, the rodeo’s official host hotel.
By incorporating additional events bringing in headliners, Wyckoff said, AGRA is offering more for both rodeo contestants and attendees to do throughout the weekend.
“The people that are coming into town will have something to go do on Friday during the day,” Wyckoff said. “It’s a way to get a new audience to learn more about the rodeo and encourage them to go out to the rodeo grounds.”
According to Bob Pimentel, Arizona Gay Rodeo director and co-founder of the New Mexico Gay Rodeo Association, each rodeo has its own distinctive flavor, but they all feel like “family reunions.”
Pimentel attributes this atmosphere to one key distinction: At gay rodeos, contestants support each other.
“There’s a camaraderie with the contestants, where they help each other,” he said. “They’re competitive, but they’re not cutthroat. They always work together, help each other and root for each other.”
Throughout the weekend, contestants will compete in such standard rodeo events as calf roping on foot, pole bending, steer riding, bull riding, chute dogging and barrel racing.
Additionally, gay rodeos feature camp events, which include steer decorating, goat dressing and wild drag race.
“Those [events] were created back when we began rodeo, to get people who’ve never been in an arena or who’ve never been around livestock involved,” Pimentel said.
Around 90 contestants, both male and female competing at different levels, take part in the rodeo each year. Pimentel added that he expects a more even split of men and women this year than in prior years.
In each event, contestants are awarded points, buckles and prize money.
“The contestants [take it seriously], especially those who do more events and are out there to get more points to go to finals and go for one of the big titles,” Pimentel said. “There isn’t a whole lot of money in it, especially for horse events [but] they love it. It’s part of who they are.”
This year, there will be 11 IGRA rodeos throughout the country, culminating with The World Gay Rodeo Finals in Las Vegas Oct. 21-23.
According to Pimentel, organizations such as AGRA not only provide opportunities for the cowboys and cowgirls to compete in inclusive environments, but also continue to help to spread the western lifestyle within the LGBTQ community.
Since 2013, Pimentel said AGRA has given more than $10,000 a year – from rodeo profits, bar tips and drink sales – to local organizations such as the Joshua Tree Feeding Program, PFLAG, one n ten and the Community Church of Hope.
The Rodeo Stage
As part of the rodeo festivities, the reigning AGRA titleholders – Mr. AGRA Jeffrey Smit, Miss AGRA Mipsey Michaels aka Michael Butts and Mistr AGRA 2015 Rusty Bolts aka Sharon Starks – will prepare to pass on their crowns to the 2016 pageant winners.
Throughout the years, AGRA royalty has had a strong presence in the international system. with one or more titleholders going on to represent Arizona.
Past AGRA royalty who have gone on to become international titleholders include, Bolts and Michaels (2015 first runners up), Pussy LeHoot, Ionna Doublewide and Victoria London.
In addition to the AGRA royalty pageant and performances by and past and present AGRA and IGRA royalty, the rodeo stage will showcase a wide variety of local entertainers.
“This years entertainment line up is amazing,” Josef said. “We have the best entertainers that Arizona has to offer.”
According to Josef, attendees can expect drag performers, including Savannahs Stevens & The Arizona Gender Outlaws, Karime Lizaldi, the Arizona Entertainer of the Year family, Viva La Diva, the BS West Elements Female Impersonation Show, the arizonadrag.com showcase, Eddie Broadway’s Boiz, Mipsy’s Royal Showcase, Ruby Reynolds’ Fuego Hour, the New Gigs on the Block with Felicia Minor and Freddy Prinze Charming, Aimee V Justice’s Fresh Faces and Sharie Cherie & The Haus of Fame.
Additionally, Josef added, that Tradiciones Dance Company, a Phoenix-based folkloric dance company; Barefoot & Pregnant, a live band; and mariachi singers Jesus Osuna and Jennifer Ortiz will return to the rodeo’s entertainment line up again this year.
“All of our spectacular entertainers donate their time and talent to make sure we have an amazing rodeo weekend full of fun, talent and great memories,” Josef said. “Without community [Arizona Gay Rodeo] would not exist … and we thank you all from the bottom of our hearts!”
Anyone interested in trying rodeo events for the first time, or even sharpening their skills, is invited to participate in AGRA’s rodeo school Feb. 12.
Rodeo school will include a barrel racing clinic from 9:30 to 11 a.m. and hands-on classes on chute dogging, steer decorating, calf roping on foot and steer riding from 11:15 a.m. to 4 p.m.
The clinic costs $50 per person, and the classes are $20 each. Pre-registration is available at agra-phx.com/rodeoschool.shtml.
Shuttle Bus and VIP Experience
Rodeo attendees are invited to take a shuttle, which will loop from Charlie’s to Hotel 502 to the rodeo grounds throughout the weekend. Friday through Sunday the shuttle runs at 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. and from 5 p.m. to 10:35 p.m.
The rodeo party bus, which include a ride to and from the Corona Ranch and Rodeo Grounds, rodeo admission, a commemorative t-shirt, $10 in rodeo drink tickets and refreshments on the bus, will depart Charlie’s at 11 a.m. and 2 p.m. and return from the rodeo grounds at 6 and 7 p.m. Party bus passes are available for $35 and can be purchased at Charlie’s.
The 31st Arizona Gay Rodeo
Corona Ranch and Rodeo Grounds
7611 S. 29th Ave., Laveen, Ariz.
Hours: 5 p.m.-close, Friday;
9 a.m.-close, Saturday and Sunday
Admission: single-day ticket, $15 rodeo; weekend pass, $25