A Guide to the Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo

The Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo is the city's signature event, a nearly month-long celebration of Texas culture that is, in many ways, as much of a folk festival as Oktoberfest. The HLSR drew nearly 2.5 million people to Houston this year, but what exactly is it, and why does it appeal to people?

This isn't your average rodeo.

The Houston Rodeo began in 1931 as a simple livestock exposition. Since then it's grown in both scope and duration to include concerts, food, and parades, some of which have spun off into larger events in their own right.

  • "The Cookoff"
    Before the Rodeo itself begins, there's the "World's Champion Bar-B-Que Contest," a three-day cook-off among 250 teams that routinely draws attendance in the six-figure range. Participation in the cook-off is hotly contested—the deadline to apply to next February's competition was back in August. Fortunately, you don't have to be a participant to enjoy the barbecue.

  • Go Texan Day and Rodeo Parade
    The rodeo is kicked off by a parade that, at last count, had some 115 groups participating—floats, marching bands, commercial stagecoaches, politicians on horseback, and more. Some 15 trail rides lead up to the day of the parade. These rides run from 66 to 216 miles and end with a camp and party at Memorial Park before the actual parade begins. The Friday before the parade is "Go Texan Day." The entire city is encouraged to dress as "Texas" as possible, with jeans, boots, and cowboy hats.

  • Entertainment
    The Rodeo also hosts a concert series. Most of the performers in recent years fall into pop-country, but the lineup isn't as straightforward as you might expect. Aside from the Western acts, performers in recent years have included Pitbull, Justin Bieber and Selena Gomez, The Black-Eyed Peas, and Maroon 5, Ariana Grande, and John Legend. This year over 75,000 people filled Reliant Stadium for several of the shows, including La Arrolladora Banda El Limón & La Maquinaria Norteña on a double bill.

  • Competition
    Of course, there is also a rodeo at the Rodeo, and some 60,000 to 150,000 people swarm to it each day. Bull riding, chuck wagon races, barrel racing, tie-down roping, and more are exhibited, and childrens' events include Mutton Bustin' and the calf scramble, which awards winners with a $1,750 certificate to purchase a beef heifer or market steer to raise and exhibit at next year's Livestock Show.

It's all for a good cause.

While the Rodeo organization hosts events throughout the year—like November's Rodeo Uncorked! International Wine Competition—the Rodeo itself runs for about three weeks in early March. Tickets range anywhere from $18 to $300, and deluxe accommodations are available in the form of entertainment suites. If you want to come early for the cookoff, tickets are $15, with children's tickets at $5. All of this money goes to a good cause, though. The Rodeo is a 501c3 nonprofit that has given out $375 million to the youth of Texas in the form of scholarships, endowments, livestock certificates, art awards, and more since the rodeo's inception in the 1930s.

(image via eschipul, CC)