Mesquite Championship Rodeo
SO YOU MISSED THE BIG-TO-DO rodeos in Fort Worth and Houston this year. It’s okay to admit it. But, lest your Texas citizenship soon be revoked, you’ve still got a chance to hop in the saddle (in a manner of speaking): The Mesquite Championship Rodeo, arguably the world’s most famous weekly rodeo, opens its fiftieth season this month.
The MCR has made Mesquite—an unassuming town that loses most of its entertainment dollars to nearby Dallas—a national stop. And it hasn’t had to resort to strobe lights or George Strait concerts or elaborate midways. Nope, here it’s actually about the cowboys and cowgirls who ride and steer-wrestle and barrel-race every Friday and Saturday night. A strong showing at the MCR is imperative for up-and-comers in the Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association; with a trip to the Las Vegas national finals on the line, these young bucks don’t hold back. The lighter offerings also draw plenty of crowds: Cowboy poker alleviates some of the arena’s intensity, for one (last person sitting at the table after a Mexican fighting bull is released wins the $400 pot), and kids get their own time in the dirt during the calf scramble and the mutton bustin’ (that’s sheep riding, for all you city slickers).
Unlike its larger counterparts, the MCR hasn’t always been a stepping-stone on the circuit. In fact, in 1958, when Neal Gay and five of his buddies decided to launch a rodeo that stayed put—not, in other words, a traveling tour—few thought it would succeed. Livestock had to be borrowed, the uncovered arena turned to muck when it rained, and the men lost $13,000 in the first year. But Gay’s big idea gained momentum when a roof was added in 1964 and Interstate 635 was opened in 1970. Four years later, when Gay’s son Don won the first of an eventual eight bull-riding championships, word was out about Mesquite’s little rodeo that could. And the upswing continued: The brand-new Resistol Arena, complete with luxury boxes and instant-replay TV monitors, debuted in 1986 after Don Carter, then-owner of the Dallas Mavericks, bought into the business. In 1999 the $20 million Rodeo Center complex, a hotel and convention center, opened and sports mogul Tom Hicks took full ownership of the MCR for $10 million (Neal Gay remains the producer). But the real coup has been two decades of television coverage, first on ESPN and now on Fox Sports Net Southwest, making the MCR one of the most televised rodeos in the world. On nights when out-of-state visitors are asked to stand, more than half the crowd usually rises.
Now, if you’re considering a visit, you should probably know some basics about rodeo’s most popular event, bull riding: First of all, eighty points out of a possible one hundred is a superb ride. And because the bull’s performance is judged too (it’s half the score), those clowns you see are doing more than acting a fool—they’re actually boosting a cowboy’s total by leading the animal so it turns in a circle as it bucks. A tip: If you admit to the clueless sightseer next to you that you’re from Texas, you might quickly follow up with these facts. You wouldn’t want your residency questioned. Apr 6–Sep 29. 1818 Rodeo Dr, 972-285-8777, mesquiterodeo.com
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Birds of a Feather
It’s April in Texas: Do you know where your birding enthusiast is? Any avian aficionado worth her Leica binoculars will be heading to the Great Texas Coastal Birding Trail—a six-hundred-mile strip that starts near Beaumont and arcs all the way down to Brownsville—to compete in the Great Texas Birding Classic, the highly anticipated championship game that draws eagle-eyed rivals to arguably the top birding destination in the country. Nearly fifty teams gathered last year, with some scouring the entire coastal area over a five-day period and others focusing on a single section of coastline in 24 hours’ time. The challenge, of course, is to know not only what various birds look and sound like but also where to find them in the first place. Whether it’s in the coastal marshes, the prairies, the woods, or along the beaches, the competitors leave no habitat unexplored as they document each flycatcher and nighthawk and kestrel and waxwing they see. Last year’s winning trio spotted a record-breaking 340 species over five days and got to designate $20,000 to a conservation project of their choice. With auxiliary contests like the Big Sit Tournament (who can count the most species from one location), the Outta-Sight Song Birder Tournament (in which blind or visually impaired birders identify species by birdsong), and the Migration Challenge (open to teams who live outside Texas), as well as divisions for Roughwings (youths thirteen and under) and Gliders (fourteen- to eighteen-year-olds), the GTBC is as inclusive as it is diverse. And for those of us who wouldn’t be able to tell a wigeon from a pigeon (the former is a medium-sized duck, just to clarify), it’s the perfect introduction to the hundreds of bird species that call the state home, if only temporarily. Apr 15–22. Various locations, 979-480-0999, tpwd.state.tx.us/gtbc
It’s been two years since Midtown Live, the city’s premier African American—owned nightclub, burned to the ground. Bystanders at the scene noticed a message on a computer screen in a police officer’s patrol car that read “Burn, baby, burn” and locals were incensed. To help quell the unrest, a study was commissioned to evaluate the quality of life for African American residents. One of the more than fifty recommendations made was the creation of the Urban Music Festival, which drew thousands to Town Lake’s Auditorium Shores last year to see Chaka Khan, Ray J, and other R&B and hip-hop stars. Now the event is back with an even more interesting mix of pioneers (the O’Jays, Cameo) and of-the-moment sensations (Dwele, Angie Stone). But the UMF is just one attempt to bolster the