There aren’t many opportunities in Austin to meet at the corner of Dairy Drive and Hog Hollow.
From that corner, smack dab in the heart of Rodeo Austin, which began in 1938 and this year runs through March 23, you can see a little bit of everything: Teenagers walking on water, tired moms noshing on turkey legs and 20-somethings wearing boots and cowboy hats without the slightest hint of irony.
Having just moved back to Austin, I was eager to revisit this annual event to see how it has changed over the years. Last week I grabbed my 60-something parents, my two young daughters and set out to see if there was enough at the rodeo to satisfy three generations.
In addition to funnel cakes, I discovered a multifaceted event that draws more than 300,000 visitors annually. And it’s for a good cause: This year, Rodeo Austin hopes to award more than $2 million to Texas youth.
If you’re planning to make your way out to the Travis County Expo Center, here’s a guide to some of this year’s Rodeo Austin highlights.
What to see with the kids
“Here, take my purse. I don’t want a goat eating it.” That’s the first thing I heard someone say when I stepped into Kidstown, home to a menagerie of animals that includes, but is not limited to, goats, baby kangaroos (yes, baby kangaroos!), llamas, deer and a Scottish cow.
Buy an ice cream cone full of feed, step into their space and prepare to witness a miniature stampede as they rush toward you in search of sustenance. Pet them for as long as you’d like, then make your way to the exit, where ample hand sanitizer awaits.
If you’d rather watch your animal friends from a distance, consider K9 Kings, a new show held daily at 10:15 a.m., 12:15 p.m., 2:15 p.m. and 5:15 p.m. that features “the most incredible dog tricks and high-flying action in the world.”
Another favorite activity, particularly among the teen set, is Walk on Water, in which participants pay to step inside gigantic beach balls and try to make their way across a shallow pool. Typically, it goes something like this: run-run-run-fall (with a requisite Taylor Swift tune playing in the background).
A few other attractions you won’t want to miss include the pedal tractor maze (also new this year), the Swifty Swine pig races and the zip line, where posted signs warn, “Caution: Low flying people.”
What to eat
There’s nothing more American than apple pie. Except maybe marionberry pie.
In addition to standard rodeo staples such as corn dogs, fried Oreos and cotton candy, this year, Willamette Valley Pie Co. is turning out fresh baked slices of marionberry pie — complete with scoops of vanilla ice cream.
So what is a marionberry? Found primarily in Oregon, it’s like a bigger, juicer version of a blackberry. Willamette Valley Pie Co. also incorporates the berries into its cobblers and turnovers.
Other foodie finds this year include Deb’s Pineapple Whip — which serves up a frosty treat that’s similar to ice cream but made with fruit juice — and Wild Bill’s Old Fashioned Soda Pop, which features flavors such as Outlaw Orange and Gatling Gun Grape. The best part? Purchase a stainless steel mug and receive free refills all day.
What to watch
If you’re a fan of rodeo action, mark your calendars for March 23 for the Super Shootout, a four-event championship that includes bareback riding, saddle bronc riding, barrel racing and bull riding. Contestants, which include some of the world’s best athletes, compete for $50,000 in prize money.
Prefer to focus exclusively on bull riding? Try the March 22 Xtreme Bulls event, which brings, as the rodeo website says, “dirt-flying, in-your-face rodeo action” to Austin. Rodeo events start nightly at 7 p.m. and are followed by the evening concert.
Those looking for something a little less extreme can make their way to the livestock show, which offers rows animals and signs with information about each breed. It is also home to the chicken hatchery, where you can watch adorable baby chicks peck their way toward their first wobbly steps.
What to listen to
Merle Haggard. Josh Turner. Three Dog Night.
Chances are you’ve heard of the headliners that are playing Rodeo Austin.
With offerings that include Gary Allan, Grammy nominee Alabama Shakes and YouTube sensation Megan and Liz, this year’s line-up goes beyond basic country to include a variety of exciting genres.
Can’t make it for an evening show? Head out during the day, when more than 100 live acts will be featured over the course of the rodeo.
What to do
Rodeo Austin calls it the largest carnival in the city, and it certainly houses anything you’d hope to find. From a traditional carousel to a swirling “Bear Affair” (think giant, spinning bears) there’s something for every rodeo goer.
You can also find all of the classic games, designed to take your money and break your heart. When we attended, we were talked into paying $5 to toss ping-pong balls at empty fish bowls in hopes of winning a goldfish. To our surprise, we won.
While I was discussing fish name possibilities with my 4-year-old — she ultimately decided on Ariel — I was delighted to catch my 18-month-old and my parents, in a fit of pure happiness, busting out some surprisingly legitimate dance moves to Aqua’s “Barbie Girl.”
I’m sure the goldfish will be dead in a week. Our memories of the rodeo, however, just might last forever.
For more information on about Rodeo Austin, visit www.rodeoaustin.com.