Story by Danielle Garcia Photos courtesy of North Texas Fair & Rodeo Denton Live Fall-Winter 2015
Clouds of dirt fly through the air as the rodeo crowd goes wild. Samantha Tippit’s adrenaline rushes through her veins as the speed of her horse and the noise of the crowd picks up. Her blonde hair is blowing behind her. One wrong step with her horse and her chances of winning fly out the arena. The risk of the crash: that’s the worst part of barrel racing. But the thrill of a good ride makes it all worthwhile.
“Arena lights are my kind-of Friday Night lights,” says Samantha, 2014’s Rodeo Queen.
As residents return from their summer vacations and students prepare for a new school year, the best way to wrap up the hottest season of the year in Denton is with the North Texas Fair and Rodeo. Going on its 87th year, for nine days this August, visitors and residents alike will come together to celebrate Denton’s cultural roots the cowboy way.
Throughout the year, fair organizers Glenn Carlton and Nanci Kimmey work hard on a lineup of fun for the whole family. Between the free bounce houses, great shopping, the kid zone, special exhibits, introduction to agriculture, carnival, high-caliber rodeo and A-list concerts, there's always something to do. "It is the whole A-Z experience... you just don't have that in your everyday life," Nanci said.
The Saturday morning before the fair opens, cars, tractors, floats and horses parade from Denton High School to the Square.
“It’s kind of a social, Saturday morning coffee-and-donut deal,” said Denise Jackson, a regular attendee of the fair.
But the socializing is just getting started with the parade. For the following nine days, many take the chance to meet up with friends they may only see once a year at the fair, college students re-unite before school starts, and out-of-town visitors mingle with folks in a truly Texas experience.
Scotland resident Alex Peat booked his return to Texas specifically around the fair. “I am looking forward to coming back this year for another visit in Texan hospitality… the best I have experienced anywhere in the world,” Alex said. “I have nothing but praise for every single Texan I met.”
Clay McCuistion, a calf-roper, has grown up in the world of rodeo. “It takes a lot of practice,” Clay says. “You definitely have to be mentally focused – like anything else, you really want a competitive edge.”
At sixteen, Clay committed to practicing and has competed in this rodeo for the past eight years. Now roping year-round at rodeos around the country, he keeps the North Texas Fair and Rodeo at the top of his list, because he gets to see his friends and family.
Rodeo Teen Queen Kendall Jackson understands the thrill of competing in the rodeo as well. “You’re always on your toes in rodeo… it’s an adrenaline rush,” Kendall says.
The air-conditioned area offers the best break from the heat and excitement of the rodeo. Enjoy a cool dip from Beth Marie’s Old Fashioned Ice Cream while browsing or shopping unique goods only found at the fair. “There are custom carpets, custom hats, belts,” said fairgoer Ruben Rogerio. “It’s different but really cool.”
The fair’s most popular indoor exhibit is where fairgoers learn about sources of food and fiber and get a grip on the whole farm-to-market process.
This year’s feature exhibit is the Extreme Raptor show. Jonathon Wood captivates audiences with up-close experiences among Mother Nature’s flying predators.
The livestock show is always a fair highlight. Youth and adults alike show off their hard work raising heifers, pigs, steers, goats, cattle, and lambs – shown throughout the week in the giant exposition barn.
“My favorite part of the fair is the music… I keep coming back because of it,” said UNT graduate Jacob Flores. Once the sun sets low in the Texas sky, the stars come out. The party lasts the whole nine days with big-time country music artists Ronnie Milsap, the Charlie Daniels Band, Bobbie Pulido and Cody Johnson.
When it’s all said and done, the North Texas Fair & Rodeo will have an economic impact of at least $7.1 million on the county. All fair revenue is invested back into the community and its organizations.
Each year the fair grows in attendance, thanks a dedicated group of volunteers who make up 95 percent of the fair’s staff. “We have about a dozen families that have been volunteering for generations at the fair,” Glenn says. “It’s like a huge family reunion.”
While the volunteers reunite, it’s also an opportunity for residents, visitors, college students, cowboys, rodeo queens, families and kids to come together to create lasting memories and to celebrate a big part of what makes Denton original and independent.