Home, for most of the year, is the cosmopolitan city of Houston, Texas. A multi-cultural centre with nationalities and languages mingling freely. The arts are covered, from museums to opera, from theatre to the quirky annual art car parade, and of course sports. Houston will be hosting the 2017 Super Bowl, that week-long extravaganza on which us Downtowners blame the construction going up, and on, our streets, though we can’t wait to be a part of all the hoopla.
But every year, at the end of February and lasting three glorious weeks, Houston returns to her roots. We go country. Western boots come out – Cowboy, Roper, Stockman, Western Work or Buckaroo with a Cuban or square heel, made from just about any kind of hide, from elk to elephant, alligator to ostrich depending on your sensitivities. Stetsons and cowboy hats appear, though I stay true to my Australian heritage and wear nothing but a Jacaru Swagman. The plaids come out, the tassels dangle, and the bling glitters. It’s Rodeo time!
As well as fun, it is big business for those dealing in the livestock, with breeders coming from across the globe to purchase stock and semen, and view anything from Brahman cattle to Nigerian Dwarf goats, from Suffolk sheep to Poland China swine, or rabbits to alpacas. City kids watch country kids with a kind of nervous envy. There is something rather cool about seeing a Texas Longhorn being blow dried and primped ready to be shown. Hollywood starlets have nothing on a Hereford bull getting ready for showtime!
Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo is a mammoth organisational coup, year after year. Run by a small permanent staff and a massive number of volunteers, it has 108 committees covering the gamut from agricultural mechanics to the world championship bar-b-que cook off.
And that’s where I was last night. Invited to one of the corporate tents to get a true taste of Texas. Wrist wrapped to show legitimacy, my first stop was the bar. Jack Daniels should have been my choice, but I’m a Jim Beams kind of gal and that wasn’t on offer, so I settled for Dewars. A pint of it!
Girls with feathered earrings skimming off-the-shoulder tops, figure hugging jeans or the leg-baring Daisy Dukes, but all booted swayed in time to Brooks and Dunn, the now separated country duo, being spun by the DJ. Guys swaggering in pressed jeans and cowboy shirts with pearl buttons, Stetsons squarely positioned on short-back-and-sides. Black, white, Latino and Asian all jostling good naturedly for prime position around a limited number of tables on which to balance their plate of bar-b-que.
This is not small event. We are in Texas after all, and everything’s bigger in the Lone Star State. More than 250 teams compete, led by bar-b-que cognoscenti who hail not just from Texas – there is even a Brit competing this year. Brisket, chicken, sausage, ribs – and for those who dare to be vegetarian at such an affair, there is potato salad, coleslaw and baked beans. But who on earth could bear to miss the sizzling, the spicy, the saucy, the smoked for plate of leaves? Not me.
Dierks Bentley, or maybe it was Luke Bryan, I’m not very au fait with country music, but whoever it was got a pistol packin’ momma in tight jeans, fringed jacket and straw hat on the dance floor happily solo stepping. But not for long. Two young women similarly attired in swirling skirts, boots, and swinging blonde hair joined her. Within another four bars guys and gals are hip dipping, toe tapping, stepping in sync. Now it’s line dancing.
What better way to welcome rodeo season than with whisky, a little bit of country, oh yes, and the world’s best bar-b-que?