#NFR16 Round 7 Notebook

Wrangler National Finals Rodeo daily schedule — Thursday, Dec. 8 and Friday, Dec. 9

 

 

TODAY

WRANGLER NFR 9-5

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8 a.m.-9 p.m.: World Series of Team Roping, South Point Arena and Equestrian Center. Free admission/open to the public.

9 a.m.-5 p.m.: Cowboys Christmas – It’s All Here/Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation Hunter & Outdoor Christmas Expo, Las Vegas Convention Center, South Halls. Free admission/open to the public.

 

10-11 a.m.; 1-3 p.m.: Pre-registration, World of Rodeo Reunion, Gold Card Gatherings, The Orleans.

11 a.m.-2 p.m.: 29th Annual Pro Rodeo League of Women Style Show and Luncheon, South Point Grand Ballroom. Hosted by The South Point Hotel, Casino & Spa. Proceeds to benefit The Justin Cowboy Crisis Fund. More information: Cindy Schonholtz at 719-440-7255/Tracy Hedeman at 817-925-5212.

Noon-1 p.m.: Outside the Barrel with Flint Rasmussen. Cowboy Christmas, Las Vegas Convention Center, South Halls. Rodeo Live presented by RODEOHOUSTON. Free admission/open to the public.

Noon-2 p.m.: Wrangler NFR Autograph Session, Bareback Riders. Monte Carlo, Double Barrel Saloon. Free admission/open to the public. First come/first served; contestants depart at 2 p.m.

1:15 p.m.-2 p.m.: Keepin’ it Country with Daryle Singletary. Cowboy Christmas, Las Vegas Convention Center, South Halls. Rodeo Live presented by RODEOHOUSTON. Free admission/open to the public.

2 p.m.-4 p.m.: Boyd Gaming Chute-Out Rodeo, Orleans Arena. Tickets/more information: www.BoydChuteOut.com.

WRANGLER NFR IN ARENA

THOMAS & MACK CENTER

6:45 p.m.: Opening, Moe Bandy; Anthem, Brooks & Dunn.

 

7 p.m.: Eighth go-round.

WRANGLER NFR AFTER DARK

6-6:30 p.m.: Wrangler NFR Countdown Show at MGM Grand. David Copperfield Theater. Free admission.

6 p.m.-10 p.m.: South Point Presents Ram Rodeo Tailgate Party. South Point Convention Center. Free admission.

6:30 p.m.-4 a.m.: The Mirage Presents Rodeo Vegas 2016, the official Wrangler NFR After-Party of the PRCA. The Mirage Race and Sports Book. Free admission/free concerts nightly. More information: www.Mirage.com/NFR.

8 p.m.-2 a.m.: MGM Grand Gold Buckle Zone. MGM Grand Convention Center. Live entertainment featuring free concerts nightly. Free admission. More information: www.mgmgrand.com/NFR.

9 p.m.-2 a.m.: The Legendary Buck’N Ball. The Orleans Hotel and Casino, Mardi Gras Ballroom. Live country music, two-step dancing and drink specials. Free admission. More information: www.BoydEvents.com/WNFR

10:30 p.m.-11:30 p.m.: National Finals Tonight Show hosted by Don Gay, Joe Beaver & Dan Miller. The Orleans Showroom. Re-cap the NFR with the best crew in town and win prizes nightly. Free admission. More information: www.BoydEvents.com/WNFR.

11 p.m.: Wrangler NFR Go Round Buckle Presentations hosted by Flint Rasmussen & Randy Corley. South Point Showroom. Free admission. Free concerts to follow each night. Aaron Watson (Dec. 1-4); Sierra Black (Dec. 5-6); Cody Johnson (Dec. 7-10).

CONCERTS

— Rodney Carrington, MGM Grand, David Copperfield Theatre. 877-880-0880/mgmgrand.com.

— Cody Johnson, South Point Casino. 866-791-7626/southpointcasino.com.

— Brandon Lay and Josh Thompson, The Mirage Race & Sports Book. 800-374-9000 or mirage.com/NFR.

— Corb Lund, MGM Grand Gold Buckle Zone. 877-880-0880 or mgmgrand.com/NFR.

— A Wynonna & The Big Noise Christmas, Golden Nugget, The Grand. 866-946-5336/goldennugget.com.

— Dwight Yoakam, The Chelsea at The Cosmopolitan of Las Vegas. 877-893-2003/cosmopolitanlasvegas.com.

— Chancey Williams and the Younger Brothers Band, Gilley’s at Treasure Island. treasureisland.com.

FRIDAY

WRANGLER NFR 9-5

8 a.m.: 30th Annual Spurs & Spikes Golf Tournament, Bali Hai Golf Club. 9 a.m. shotgun start. To purchase a team, call 719-528-4732.

8 a.m.-9 p.m.: World Series of Team Roping, South Point Arena and Equestrian Center. Free admission/open to the public.

9 a.m.: World of Rodeo Reunion, Gold Card Gatherings, The Orleans, Mardi Gras Ballroom. Registration 9-10 a.m.; Visitation 10-11 a.m.; Luncheon and Live Auction 11:30 a.m.-12:30 p.m.; Presentations 12:30-1:30 p.m. and Visitation from 1:30-3 p.m. Tickets/information: Larry Jordan, 406-223-6503

9 a.m.-5 p.m.: Cowboys Christmas – It’s All Here/Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation Hunter & Outdoor Christmas Expo, Las Vegas Convention Center, South Halls. Free admission/open to the public.

Noon-1 p.m.: Outside the Barrel with Flint Rasmussen. Cowboy Christmas, Las Vegas Convention Center, South Halls. Rodeo Live presented by RODEOHOUSTON. Free admission/open to the public.

Noon-2 p.m.: Wrangler NFR Autograph Session, Saddle Bronc Riders. Harrah’s, Toby Keith’s I Love This Bar & Grill. Free admission/open to the public. First come/first served; contestants depart at 2 p.m.

1:15 p.m.-2 p.m.: Keepin’ it Country with Daryle Singletary. Cowboy Christmas, Las Vegas Convention Center, South Halls. Rodeo Live presented by RODEOHOUSTON. Free admission/open to the public.

2 p.m.-4 p.m.: Boyd Gaming Chute-Out Rodeo, Orleans Arena. Tickets/more information: www.BoydChuteOut.com.

WRANGLER NFR IN ARENA

THOMAS & MACK CENTER

6:45 p.m.: Opening, Granger Smith; Anthem, Allie Burgett (National Anthem Open Division contest winner)

7 p.m.: Ninth go-round.

WRANGLER NFR AFTER DARK

6-6:30 p.m.: Wrangler NFR Countdown Show at MGM Grand. David Copperfield Theater. Free admission.

6 p.m.-10 p.m.: South Point Presents Ram Rodeo Tailgate Party. South Point Convention Center. Free admission.

6:30 p.m.-4 a.m.: The Mirage Presents Rodeo Vegas 2016, the official Wrangler NFR After-Party of the PRCA. The Mirage Race and Sports Book. Free admission/free concerts nightly. More information: www.Mirage.com/NFR.

8 p.m.-2 a.m.: MGM Grand Gold Buckle Zone. MGM Grand Convention Center. Live entertainment featuring free concerts nightly. Free admission. More information: www.mgmgrand.com/NFR.

9 p.m.-2 a.m.: The Legendary Buck’N Ball. The Orleans Hotel and Casino, Mardi Gras Ballroom. Live country music, two-step dancing and drink specials. Free admission. More information: www.BoydEvents.com/WNFR

10:30 p.m.-11:30 p.m.: National Finals Tonight Show hosted by Don Gay, Joe Beaver & Dan Miller. The Orleans Showroom. Re-cap the NFR with the best crew in town and win prizes nightly. Free admission. More information: www.BoydEvents.com/WNFR.

11 p.m.: Wrangler NFR Go Round Buckle Presentations hosted by Flint Rasmussen & Randy Corley. South Point Showroom. Free admission. Free concerts to follow each night. Aaron Watson (Dec. 1-4); Sierra Black (Dec. 5-6); Cody Johnson (Dec. 7-10).

CONCERTS

— Trace Adkins, Golden Nugget, The Grand. 866-946-5336/goldennugget.com.

— Gary Allan, Hard Rock Hotel, The Joint. 800-473-7625/hardrockhotel.com.

— Kelsea Ballerini with Cam, The Orleans Showroom. 702-284-7777/boydgamingevents.com.

— Craig Wayne Boyd, MGM Grand Gold Buckle Zone. 877-880-0880 or mgmgrand.com/NFR

— Rodney Carrington, MGM Grand, David Copperfield Theatre. 877-880-0880/mgmgrand.com

— Cody Johnson, South Point Casino. 866-791-7626/southpointcasino.com.

— Toby Keith, MGM Grand Garden Arena. 877-880-0880 or mgmgrand.com/entertainment

— Brandon Lay and Granger Smith, The Mirage Race & Sports Book. 800-374-9000 or mirage.com/NFR.

— Justin Moore, The Chelsea at The Cosmopolitan of Las Vegas. 877-893-2003/cosmopolitanlasvegas.com

— Maxwell and Mary J. Blige, T-Mobile Arena. 702-692-1600/t-mobilearena.com.

— Reba, Brooks & Dunn, The Colosseum at Caesars Palace. 888-929-7849/caesarspalace.com.

— Ron White, The Mirage, Terry Fator Theatre. 800-963-9634/mirage.com.

— Sam Riddle, The Veil Pavilion at Silverton. 702-263-7777/silvertoncasino.com.

— Chancey Williams and the Younger Brothers Band, Gilley’s at Treasure Island. treasureisland.com.

Feed crew keeps animals bucking at National Finals Rodeo

 

By BEN GOTZ
LAS VEGAS REVIEW-JOURNAL

National Finals Rodeo Livestock Superintendent John Barnes discovered a problem Saturday night. His team was running low on one of its types of feed.

To make sure the animals didn’t skip a beat, John Link, a representative of the rodeo’s food supplier Purina, had to make a 1,200-mile round trip in about 25 hours to get extra supplies. While the animals never noticed, the trek was just one small example of the care and attention it takes to make sure the 210 horses and 100 bulls performing in Las Vegas are getting the nutrition they need to be at their best.

“They’re like Olympic athletes,” Link said as NFR entered its ninth day at the Thomas & Mack Center . “We’re basically in the Super Bowl, the World Series. This is it. The better they perform, the better everyone does and nutrition is a big part of it.”

To feed the animals for the duration of the rodeo, Barnes ordered 54½ tons of feed from Purina and will have 75 tons of hay shipped in from Hiko, Nevada. On Tuesday, the animals went through nearly 8,000 pounds total of four different types of hay and almost 4,000 pounds total of seven kinds of feed.

Every animal at the rodeo has a “feed sheet” that tells Barnes and his five-person feed crew the type and amount of food each animal is to receive each day. There’s also a sign above each animal pen that states whether the animal has any type of special medication.

Only Barnes and his crew are allowed to put the feed out each morning and the hay at night, otherwise, with 57 animal owners at the rodeo, the process could turn into chaos. One member of the crew also stays out all night at the pens near Thomas & Mack to make sure no one messes with food.

“We feel these animals are just as important as the President of the United States,” Barnes, who is in his sixth year as livestock superintendent, said. “They guard his food 24 hours a day, and we guard our food 24 hours a day.”

The nighttime crew member starts getting out the feed so the animals can start eating by 7 a.m. each morning. Feeding usually wraps up in an hour and half to two hours, so that by noon the crew is able to start sorting the animals into those performing that night and those that are not.

Once sorting gets done by 2:30 p.m. hay is put out for those staying put, while the animals that perform will find hay back in their when they perform that night.

“It’s in their best interest that they don’t have a big full belly (before performing), just like we don’t want to work with a big full belly,” Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association Livestock program administrator Jed Pugsley said.

The types of feed used, which can be oat-, corn- or beef-based, among others, are not uncommon, though it can sometimes be an adjustment for the animals if they’re used to something different at home. Many owners switch to the type of feed used at the rodeo a month or two before coming to Las Vegas to get their animals used to it.

Even if owners don’t switch before the rodeo, Barnes said the adjustment can be minor. The types of feed used are all relatively basic, but nutrient-rich as can be to keep the animals feeling well.

“When we talk about our livestock, we often refer to them as rodeo athletes or livestock athletes,” Pugsley said. “LeBron James doesn’t go out and eat at McDonald’s every night just because it’s there.

“We’re talking quality feeds. You’re talking quality diets. Not just anything will work for the livestock.”

Ben Gotz/Las Vegas Review-Journal. Gotz can be reached at bgotz@reviewjournal.com. Follow @BenSGotz on Twitter.

Landingham wins NFR bareback go-round as cancer-stricken mother watches

 

R.C. Landingham rides Scarlet Fever during the bareback riding competition at the National Finals Rodeo at the Thomas & Mack Center on Wednesday, Dec. 7, 2016, in Las Vegas. Benjamin Hager/Las Vegas Review-Journal

National Finals Rodeo

Where: Thomas & Mack Center

When: 7 p.m. Thursday

Tickets: Mad Dash (general admission, seat not guaranteed) tickets available by calling Thomas & Mack box office at 702-739-3267 or UNLVtickets.com

By BETSY HELFAND
LAS VEGAS REVIEW-JOURNAL

Bareback rider R.C. Landingham won his first-ever National Finals Rodeo go-round to open the seventh night of competition Wednesday at the Thomas & Mack Center. 

He did it in front of his mother, Wendy, who has been battling cancer.

“She’s on some pretty strong chemo, and she’s worn out,” Landingham said. “But it means the world to me that she’s here. It’s a blessing.”

Landingham posted an 84.5 to edge world leader Tim O’Connell.

Saddle bronc rider CoBurn Bradshaw took first, and Jake Watson, Jacobs Crawley and Jake Wright finished in a three-way tie for second.

“I feel as good as I did the first day, really,” Bradshaw said. “Luckily, I’m not taking any hard knocks.”

Other winners included Matt Shiozawa in tie-down roping and Elko native Dakota Eldridge in steer wrestling.

Mary Burger, a 68-year-old barrel racer, won her first go-round and continues to hold a sizable lead.

Garrett Tribble, Cody Rostockyj and Shane Proctor each posted an 85 to finish tied for first in bull riding. Proctor is the only one to have ridden all of his bulls and has placed in every round.

Matt Sherwood and Quinn Kessler took first in team roping, while the top two all-around leaders — Dustin Bird and Russell Cardoza — finished sixth.

Bird is first in the all-around standings, followed by Cardoza, Junior Nogueira, Clayton Hass and Caleb Smidt.

Contact Betsy Helfand at bhelfand@reviewjournal.com. Follow @BetsyHelfand on Twitter.

Canadians Levi Simpson, Jeremy Buhler make strong impression at first NFR

Canadian team roper Levi Simpson rides off stage during the National Finals Rodeo at the Thomas & Mack Center on Wednesday, Dec. 7, 2016, in Las Vegas. Benjamin Hager/Las Vegas Review-Journal

Canadian team roper Jeremy Buhler ropes a calf during the National Finals Rodeo at the Thomas & Mack Center on Wednesday, Dec. 7, 2016, in Las Vegas. Benjamin Hager/Las Vegas Review-Journal

National Finals Rodeo

Where: Thomas & Mack Center

When: 7 p.m. Thursday

Tickets: Mad Dash (general admission, seat not guaranteed) tickets available by calling Thomas & Mack box office at 702-739-3267 or UNLVtickets.com

By BETSY HELFAND
LAS VEGAS REVIEW-JOURNAL

When Canadian Night begins Thursday at the Thomas & Mack Center, fans from up north will have plenty to cheer for.

Eight Canadians are competing at the National Finals Rodeo, the most since 2001, and they’ve been putting on a show.

Saddle bronc rider Zeke Thurston has won one go-round, and bareback rider Jake Vold won three in a row.

But perhaps none has been as impressive as team ropers Levi Simpson (header) and Jeremy Buhler (heeler). Competing in their first NFR, the Alberta natives comprise the first all-Canadian roping team, and they’ve won $84,250 each in their first seven days.

They won their first go-round Dec. 1 and also have a tie for first, tie for second, sixth-place finish and tie for sixth. They lead the NFR average standings.

“To make a great run the first round, ended up winning the round, for me it just took the pressure off being here and kind of saying, ‘We can do this,’” Simpson said. “From that point on, we just kind of had fun with it.”

They have been roping together for two years, and along with Kolton Schmidt, this marks the first time three Canadians qualified for the NFR in team roping — and the first time a team roper has been in the competition since 2007.

“There’s a lot of guys from Canada that rope really well, and there’s … agroup of guys that actually worked their tails off to get team roping to where it is in Canada, so it’s pretty awesome to get to come down here knowing that all their hard work that they put in for us, it’s maybe starting to pay off a little bit,” Buhler said. “I feel like me and Levi are kind of reaping the rewards of their hard work.”

Team roping didn’t enter the Canadian Finals Rodeo until 2000, and it’s only recently become a major event.

“The (Canadian Professional Rodeo Association) had never really had team roping. They didn’t really want to let it into the CPRA, and then those guys, they fought so hard to get it,” Buhler said. “Next year, they’re saying there’s going to be even money, so team roping, it’s come a long way from the sweat that those guys have put in.”

Now, the two are feeling the support from all around the country. After their win the first night, Buhler had more than 100 text messages stack up on his phone.

“It was overwhelming. I sat there the next morning and made sure I texted them all back,” Buhler said. “Everybody up there wants us to do good.”

On Canadian Night, the support inside the Thomas & Mack should be loud. “O Canada” will be sung, and plenty of Canadian flags will be waved.

 

“Every year there’s Canadians that come down here. They love rodeo, they love watching it, and this is the biggest stage you can find it,” Simpson said. “This year, as far as I know, has to be one of the biggest followings. I bet on Canadian Night there’s going to be a sea of red in the stands. It’s already been that way.”

And while they’re soaking up the support they’ve received at their first NFR, it’s more than warranted, as they’ve had a successful event.

“To make it here, you’ve got to be confident that you’re among the best guys in the world,” Simpson said. “You’ve made it here, so you should be able to compete and hopefully do well. I never even dreamed that we were going to be doing this well … we’re just fortunate to be here.”

Contact Betsy Helfand at bhelfand@reviewjournal.com. Follow @BetsyHelfand on Twitter.

Family, friends and lots of drinks make for fun nights watching NFR at casinos

 

Bareback rider Jake Vold displays his buckle and bottle of Pendleton Whisky during the go-round awards party at the South Point Showroom on Tuesday night. Vold won for the third straight night. (Patrick Everson/Las Vegas Review-Journal)

By PATRICK EVERSON
LAS VEGAS REVIEW-JOURNAL

Every night throughout the Wrangler National Finals Rodeo, the Thomas & Mack Center packs ‘em in, running its sellout streak to 300 by the time the 2016 event wraps up Saturday. But those 17,000 or so folks in the arena represent just a fraction of rodeo fans here this week.

So where are the rest of those people while the riding, roping and racing takes place?

Thanks to viewing parties scattered up and down Las Vegas Strip, on Fremont Street downtown, at the South Point and many points beyond, thousands upon thousands of cowboys and cowgirls are right in the thick of the action, every night. The live, commercial-free feed provides sightlines you can’t even get from inside the Thomas & Mack Center.

And as a trip around town Tuesday night demonstrates, there are all sorts of ancillary benefits to the way the overwhelming majority of fans experience the 10-day December run each year. Here’s a timeline of how that trip unfolded.

 

7 P.M., THE D

Smack in the middle of the Fremont Street Experience lies the D Las Vegas, but head a block south to the hotel’s nightly viewing party, and that’s where the real action is during the NFR. A humongous enclosed tent provides seating for hundreds, who can view competition on two huge big screens facing out in each direction from the center of the room, with a full bar set up between the two screens.

There are even tables along each side with smaller monitors above them. So wherever you end up, you’re right on top of the rodeo. On this night, a big group fills out a huge round table to watch the action on one of the big screens. As the bareback riding breaks out of the chute to open the sixth go-round, everyone at the table is already revved up and ready to go.

Sharon Salvator and husband Jamie Salvator are appointed as group spokespeople, which proves smart, especially in Sharon’s case. She and Jamie have been coming to the NFR for 18 years, so they’ve seen this event from many different venues.

“This is by far the best viewing if you’re not actually there,” Sharon says. “Live television broadcast, great bar, big glasses, good ice, rock on!”

If you’re willing to go so far as to compliment the ice, it must be a pretty good party.

Sharon and Jamie, who raise rodeo bulls in Wright City, Mo., were particularly impressed when Derek Stephens, owner of the D, chatted them up last year as they first checked out this viewing party.

“We met him on the second night, and we told him how great it was,” Jamie recalls, noting Stephens made a point of asking what he could do to make the experience better, taking suggestions to heart and making one small request himself.

“He said, ‘The only thing I ask is that you bring more people.’ By the fourth night, we had about 20 people, and he came over and personally thanked us for bringing them.

“Derek is great. You’ll see him in here a lot.”

The Salvators and all their friends show up around 6 to grab dinner – Road Kill Café has a setup adjacent to the bar; Sharon describes the food as “excellent” – and they make a night of it until long after the last bull rider dusts himself off.

“One night, we didn’t leave till midnight,” Sharon says. “All the people were just in here visiting. We’ve got friends from all over, from different states. We all meet here.”

As bareback riding ends and steer wrestling kicks into gear, the table is rollicking with stories, laughter and drinks – lots of drinks. Alan Clark, from Jonesburg, Missouri, decides to chime in, too.

“It’s gonna get a lot funner,” Clark says, to which another at the table joked: “He’s an English teacher back in Missouri!”

8:05 P.M., THE MIRAGE

Arguably the biggest transformation to make way for the NFR occurs in the sportsbook at The Mirage. Gone are the couches and huge chairs and race seating for the horse players; in are rows of seats set up for the nightly viewing parties, with the NFR taking over the giant screen that would normally be loaded up with football and basketball this time of year.

In the elevated stadium seating area at the back of the book, below the big electronic betting board, all the couches are gone, and in their place is a huge stage for the nightly post-go-round country music acts. And in front of that stage is a sizable dance floor, where patrons kick up their heels after the dust settles on another night of rodeo.

A group of Minnesotans is gathered around one small countertop table, sipping drinks and taking in barrel racing and bull riding, the last two events of the night. Byron Louwagie, from Cottonwood, Minnesota, gives the place a pretty high rating.

“Eight out of 10,” Louwagie says. “The atmosphere is great, the broadcast is right on time, in actual time, with no commercials. An hour-and-a-half, two hours of rodeo, then you’re done and can do whatever you want.”

Louwagie is joined this night by wife Keisha and friends Brandy Lanning and Erik and Dani Stonestrom; Lanning’s husband, David, is somewhere out in the casino trying his luck. All of them are rooting for contestants who hail from their home state, particularly Tanner Aus, whom they know well and who is having a great week in Vegas, with two go-round wins so far.

“It’s nice to see a couple guys from Minnesota here. I love it,” Louwagie says, noting he’s particularly impressed with how well he can see them on the live feed. “You’re close behind the chutes. They got big screens. You don’t have backdrop noise from the TV announcers.”

Indeed, you’re just getting the arena rodeo announcers.

“It’s like you’re actually there,” he says, adding the drinks and service are great too. “Nine out of 10. I can’t complain.”

Keisha is enjoying the NFR telecast, for sure, but is also looking forward to the concert coming up on the big stage – Glen Templeton, followed by Chancey Williams.

“We’ve got backstage passes, so we’re gonna meet Chancey Williams,” she says. “That’s pretty cool, because I’ve never seen him.”

Will there be dancing?

“Us girls will dance,” Keisha says. And what about the boys? “We get enough alcohol in ‘em, we’ll get them out there.”

To which Erik replies: “There’s not enough alcohol in Vegas to get me out there.”

9:30 P.M., SOUTH POINT

The South Point is an outstanding nightcap to the NFR, no matter where you take in the action. That’s because the South Point hosts the nightly go-round winners buckle presentation in the showroom. Flint Rasmussen and Randy Corley don’t start recounting the action and doling out buckles – and commemorative bottles of Pendleton Whisky – until 11 p.m., but the party is well underway long before that.

One table full of drinks looks particularly inviting. And indeed, the people seated behind those drinks are quite hospitable, all of them related in one way or another to Toni Carlson of Ellensburg, Washington. There was Toni’s son Tug Carlson, with his wife Kelly and son Coltyn Rope (yes, Coltyn insisted on using his middle name in all instances); Toni’s sister-in-law Lisa Carlson-Oien; and Kelly’s niece Britni Harrington.

And that half-dozen is a small night for the Carlson family and friends, who have about 18 total in their party for Wrangler NFR week. On this night, the crew is all from Ellensburg – home of standout team roping brothers Brady and Riley Minor, and their cousin Jake Minor – except for Harrington, who has moved around a bit in her line of work as an airplane mechanic.

In fact, she just took a job in Rome, New York, about as far away from Ellensburg as one can get and still be in the United States, so she’s particularly excited to be back with family.

“I come here every year for my birthday. I turn 26 in a couple days,” she says, noting the big day is on Monday – 12/12. “So we all come here and have a good time.”

They’ve all just come from the South Point’s monster viewing party, spread among three ballrooms upstairs. Harrington raved about that scene.

“It’s way more laid-back, there’s free food, alcohol is cheap and close, and I’m with my family,” she says.

Toni compares the viewing party quite favorably to anything fans might take in at the Thomas & Mack Center.

“We about had a front-row seat,” she says. “You see everything going on. You can critique all the contestants. It was like being there.”

But perhaps the best part is yet to come: that go-round buckle bash, which we’re all ready for, but is still an hour from starting. So the rambunctious Coltyn Rope orders up another round. He turned 21 in March and is really feeling it this evening, downing Red Bull-and-vodkas with youthful reckless abandon.

Coltyn Rope most enjoys the up-close-and-personal with the NFR contestants.

“You see them at a far view, but once you come here, they’re real people. You realize they’re just like you, humble and as friendly as can be,” he says. “They’ll reach out and shake your hand and thank you for your support.”

Coltyn Rope could specifically draw from his interaction a night earlier with big-bearded team roper Jeremy Buhler, who partnered with Levi Simpson to win Monday’s go-round.

“I appreciated that he took the time to accept congratulations from a guy he didn’t know,” Coltyn Rope says. “He took the time to ask where I was from and was actually interested in having a conversation. He’s humble, real nice, doesn’t take anything for granted. It’s a cowboy thing. It’s a good environment to be associated with.”

After the Carlson crew orders up another round, 11 o’clock finally hits, and the awards party starts. A familiar face is up first, bareback rider Jake Vold, who earlier won the go-round for the third straight night as he continued piling up WNFR earnings in pursuit of a world title.

These presentations aren’t like your typical awards ceremonies. The stage is full of family and friends of the winners, and of course we all get the great commentary and back stories from Rasmussen and Corley.

“I just love the part where it’s a family thing, where they tell stories about the contestants,” Toni says. “It’s like a personal experience.”

That’s pretty much how it is every year here for the Carlson crew – a family thing, telling stories. A personal experience not to be missed.

Explosion of live music during rodeo week could signal ‘next big wave’ for Las Vegas

Losers Bar owners Erv Woolsey, left and Steve Ford (Mike Weatherford/Las Vegas Review-Journal)

The Texas Jamm Band performs at the Gold Buckle Zone at the MGM in Las Vegas. (Rachel Aston/Las Vegas Review-Journal) @rookie__ra

By MIKE WEATHERFORD
LAS VEGAS REVIEW-JOURNAL

 

You only get one chance to see Toby Keith and Big & Rich at the MGM Grand Garden on Friday, but neither is completely leaving town.

You can always pose with a cardboard likeness of Keith in front of his licensed I Love This Bar & Grill, a fixture at Harrah’s since 2005.

And Friday, John Rich was to lead a hard-hat media tour of Redneck Riviera, his country-themed bar opening soon at the Grand Bazaar Shops in front of Bally’s.

Themed bars are nothing new on the Strip — even if the sight of a “Red Solo Cup” antenna topper marked down to $5 in Keith’s gift shop is a sober reminder that they depend on the currency of their name brand.

But the real secret may be something else you find inside: live music.

Rich plans to follow Keith’s lead of offering live bands in his bar every night, long after the National Finals Rodeo leaves town. Finding “a great live country band on a Tuesday night” was “a real underserved thing in Las Vegas,” the singer-entrepreneur explained in August.

But for how long?

Rodeo week is an extreme example of the loss-leader music available to cowboys and their fans. But this year, it may also be an outlier.

NFR brings free entertainment to the Strip

“The lounges and bars with live music are what I think the next big wave in Vegas is,” MGM Grand President Scott Sibella said at last week’s opening of Losers Most Wanted Bar inside the hotel.

“We have the best nightclubs in the world. But not everybody wants to go to a nightclub every night,” Sibella added. “I think the town’s coming back to live music, great lounges and great bars.

And where does it start? At the MGM at least, “with this little country bar. It’s not too big, it’s not too small. Live music, great atmosphere. You don’t have to be a country guy to come in here.”

A NEW BAR SCENE

Losers takes its name from the Nashville location opened 12 years ago by Steve Ford and Erv Woolsey, who manages George Strait and other country music acts. Ford says the Midtown Nashville location of Losers has never charged a cover, but the big names often get inspired to jump on stage and jam.

Would Woolsey’s clients do likewise when they are in Las Vegas? “You gotta be here to find out,” Ford says with a sly smile. But no promises. “It’s just set up as a dive bar. Come in and drink and listen to good music.”

Losers tested the waters last year with a 14-day rodeo run as a “pop-up” bar in the place it has now taken over for good: the Rouge Lounge, a scaled-down version of a swank Las Vegas nightclub.

“Nobody wants the bottle service anymore. Nobody can afford the bottle service anymore,” Ford says. “Our drinks are reasonably priced and everybody’s smilin’.”

On this night, they are smiling at opening-night attraction Mark Chesnutt. The singer had his biggest commercial year in 1990, but it’s still unusual to see Chesnutt on the small stage backing up to the right-angled corner of the bar, his back turned to a major trafficway of the casino.

But the slot machines just 10 feet away are a reminder of something largely vanished from modern Las Vegas: the open lounges that were once a mainstay of every casino, offering free music from the likes of Sam Butera or The Checkmates.

“What you and I grew up with is what Vegas is coming back to,” Sibella says. “I regret when I took over the MGM that I closed a live entertainment venue. I thought it was just too loud for the casino. And now that’s what people want.”

On the eve of the NFR, the Strip faced tough competition from Old Dominion and Sawyer Brown playing a free kickoff party at Fremont Street’s Downtown Hoedown.

Even so, I Love This Bar & Grill was building on a small crowd as Chris Shrader covered Garth Brooks’ “Much Too Young (To Feel This Damn Old).”

A few minutes of walking led to more live music: “Come Together” inside O’Sheas at The Linq. Outside at Harrah’s Carnival Court, another band covering The Cars’ “Just What I Needed.” And dueling pianos attacking Styx’s “Come Sail Away” inside The Piano Bar at Harrah’s.

The Jimmy Buffet-themed Margaritaville bar and restaurant at the Flamingo expanded into its own themed mini-casino. As patrons there played beer pong, still another band served up Sugar Ray’s “Every Morning” at The 5 O’Clock Somewhere bar.

Five live acts in 15 minutes. This batch was all at connected Caesars Entertainment properties. But they can’t be far out of line from corporate rival Sibella’s estimate that 75 percent of the MGM Grand’s revenue now comes from nongaming sources.

“You’ve got to create an atmosphere where people are entertained,” Sibella says.

RODEO LEADS THE WAY

Rodeo week takes this philosophy to the extreme. The Mirage turns its sports book into a honky-tonk, offering Brandon Lay on Friday and Daryle Singletary and Easton Corbin on Saturday.

Back at the MGM, a long walk from Losers bar to the hotel’s convention area puts cowboys in line for a huge conference-center ballroom transformed into the Gold Buckle Zone, with as many as 3,000 people able to check out Craig Wayne Boyd on Friday and Eric Paslay for free on Saturday.

Sibella headed The Mirage before moving to the MGM, and he followed his own lead when he made the jump. The first rodeo stage was in the casino area of the MGM, “but we kind of outgrew it.” Last year’s move to the conference center was “a home run.”

While 60 percent of the MGM’s rooms are booked with rodeo fans, most of them will be lucky to get in for one night of the actual competition at the Thomas & Mack Center, he notes. The rest of the time?

“You watch it on TV, you go to shows, you gamble. They want to be around people with hats on. We create the whole environment,” Sibella says. “There’s nothing better than to go somewhere and feel like you’re wanted.”

Read more from Mike Weatherford at reviewjournal.com. Contact him at mweatherford@reviewjournal.com and follow @Mikeweatherford on Twitter.