At nearly 86 years old, Barrett still going strong
By Cris Tiller Reporter-Herald Sports Writer
The first thing you notice is his voice.
It's not deep and booming like you might expect from a radio man or public announcer at a baseball game, but his is rich and bursting with character. There's no helping it. When he speaks, you listen.
The more your ears take in his soothing cadence, the clearer it becomes why Hadley Barrett is unquestionably the voice of American rodeo.
Barrett's career stretches back over the better part of 60 years, including calling the Larimer County Rodeo dating back to the event's early years when he was enlisted by Dale Wiest, for whom now the arena inside the Budweiser Events Center is named after.
Back then, Wiest was a principal member of the Larimer County Fair committee at the old fairgrounds in Loveland. Some 40 years later, Wiest is one of Barrett's closest friends and extremely pleased with the caliber of the man he brought in for the job.
"First off, he does his homework. He knows every horse, every bull and every cowboy and has the promo on every one of them. He's like an encyclopedia. And his voice," Wiest pauses for the right word. "It's excellent; it's rodeo."
Rodeo was firmly ingrained in Barrett's very existence growing up in North Platte, Neb., where as a young man in his 20s he competed as a bareback and bull rider. However, the aspect of the sport he would become known across the country for was pure happenstance.
When he wasn't strapped to the back of bucking livestock, Barrett performed in a post-rodeo band for the dance afterward, which supplied his voice an outlet and gave the man experience in front of crowds.
But it was when a friend of his went ill in the early 1950s that Barrett fell into his true calling.
"I just filled in for another guy a few times and it just kind of evolved from there. That was a long time ago," he said. "I don't remember exactly how I felt about that (first) one, but back then the production wasn't nearly as high as it is now, so there weren't as many things to deal with."
Barrett continued to play in his band while beginning his announcing career as his profile grew around the Nebraska rodeo circuit. Once other rodeo presidents and stock contractors heard about Barrett, it wasn't long before professional rodeo came calling in the early '60s.
"I had a young family and it looked like something I should try. I didn't know whether it would work or not, but I guess the trail sort of tells the story from that point on," Barrett said. "But yeah, I had some breaks from guys in rodeo who heard me and thought I was the right caliber to call pro rodeos. That's how I developed."
Barrett always held an interest in announcing, but never expected it to involve the next half-century.
"No, I really didn't," he said with a chuckle. "It's been an interesting ride; it sure has."
He's 85 now (soon to be 86 on Sept. 18), lives just east of Greeley and loves rodeo as much as ever. There's no sign of slowing down as he remains sharp as ever, and for many fans, the perfect sound of rodeo.
"Everywhere he goes it's great. We've had him here in Loveland for 25-30 years and I wouldn't have any other announcer," Wiest said. "He can talk to anybody, and no matter what they're talking about, he knows something about it. He's just a great announcer and great family man."
Barrett describes the job as being part master of ceremony, part stand up entertainer and every once in a while a comedian. In 1999 he was inducted to the Pro Rodeo Hall of Fame.
"It was really just amazing that it happened. When I learned of the selection those first few hours I spent reviewing who I thought ought to be in there before I was," he said. "My wife at one point, after I stewed with that for a while, she said 'Are you going to accept this award?' And I said 'Well, yeah.' And so she says 'Well, then why don't you enjoy it?' So I backed off on that."
He's been all over the country, estimating he's called a rodeo in every state in the mainland U.S. with the exception of five or six, in addition to calling the Canadian finals and a rodeo in Australia.
Barrett describes the rodeo community as less like a family and more like a neighborhood. There are relationships you make, and when you leave, a lot of times you never see them again. Staying in the neighborhood is what keeps him going.
"I've had some stepping stones along the way and I will always be grateful for the people that helped me along and the fans that have been so loyal," he said. "There's kind of a theory in this game that I have: I think the rookie is just as important as the champion, I think the livestock is just as important as the cowboy and I think if we did not have the fans, none of it would mean anything."