Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Now, About Those Bulls . . .

I kept hearing two themes at the PBR event in Tulsa. One went like this: “The return of . . .”—just go ahead and fill in the blank to your own satisfaction. On Saturday night, I was treated to the return of J. B. Mauney, Brian Canter, Zack Brown, and Brendon Clark. On Sunday afternoon, I was told about the return of each of those young men yet again—you get the idea. I got heartily sick of the sound of it, especially since none of those boys except Zack rode worth a damn.

The other theme was how great the bulls were. Don’t get me wrong—you all know that the bulls are the reason I love this sport so much. But although the bulls most certainly got the job done, what with only 29 qualified rides for the entire event, I was exceptionally impressed with only a handful of them.

One thing I really love about the events when the new young bulls show up is their enthusiasm. Certainly you’ll see a few who are freaked out by the bright lights and the noise, but then there are others who really bring it, who come flying out of the chute like nobody told them they were supposed to play nicely with the cowboys. Maybe the veterans like Bushwhacker, Major Payne, and Hank were giving the rookies some advice behind the chutes, because some of those adorable babies, particularly Holy Roller and King Lopez, wasted no time doing their job when the gate opened.

Still, my distinct overall impression was that the cowboys were not at their best at either event. I don’t mean to suggest they weren’t doing anything they could think of to stay aboard—I saw contortions the like of which I don’t often see—but many of the boys just seemed a little off their game. I don’t know if it was the oppressive heat they’d been wading through anytime they dared to stick their heads outside the hotel, or, as Ty Murray famously said, “Too much clubbing,” or (most likely, I think) the fact that almost all of them were all banged up to one extent or another.

In his Webcast Friday night, Dr. Freeman pointed out that the much-talked about break was, in fact, a break in “name only,” because many of the guys keep riding on the Touring Pro circuit while the BFTS is shut down. Consequently, by the time we showed up on Saturday night, Briscoe, Cross, and McConnel were all out of action with comparatively new injuries. Marchi, who had surgery on his hand a few weeks before, came to the event intending to ride and then decided against it when it became clear he wasn’t 100%.

And on Saturday night, the crowd seemed sluggish as well. About halfway through the event, Montana Barn Cat said to me, “This bunch makes the Billings event look like the Superbowl.” It was better on Sunday, when the true die-hard fans always turn out in force, but on Saturday night, I swear it seemed you could have heard a pin drop a lot of the time.

I go to the PBR to see the bulls lay waste to the cowboys, and certainly I saw plenty of that in Tulsa. I sincerely hope that what I sensed from the boys was just anomaly. There’s a lot of season left before Vegas.

Friday, July 23, 2010

Escaping the Bunny Hutch, or the After-Party That Wasn’t

Leaving the Crowne Plaza for the PBR event on Saturday night, we got off in the second-floor lobby. (By the way, the Crowne in Tulsa isn’t half as nice as the one in Billings. Just sayin’.) Lots of people, mostly young women, were congregating in a seating area off to our left. “What’s that?” I asked Montana Barn Cat. He cast an appraising eye at the masses and stated unequivocally, “That’s the Buckle Bunny Hutch.”

After the event ended, we trudged back through the still-soupy atmosphere to the hotel. We had been debating all day whether to go over to Cain’s Ballroom for the official after-party, but doing that would have obliged us to retrieve the car from valet parking at the exact moment that millions of other folks were trying to do the same. So we postponed that decision and headed to the bar for a drink.

We were among the first to get in there, but it became clear very quickly that we were never going to get served. We heard the bartender, with whom we’d had a very pleasant chat about Tiger Woods the day before, tell one of the customers that he didn’t have a cocktail server on duty that night, so if you wanted a drink, you had to go to the bar to get it, and people were already standing three deep there.

(At one point in our conversation, the bartender asked us if we worked for the PBR. “Why did he think that?” I later inquired of the Barn Cat. “Because we aren’t dressed like slobs and I was wearing a cowboy hat,” he sagely replied.)

Faced with these dire prospects, we hightailed it out of there and went in search of food and drink elsewhere. We passed Adriano Moraes, who was going up the escalator as we were going down, which suggested that maybe a lot of PBR folks and riders might be coming to the Crowne instead of going over to Cain’s. Eventually, we ended up at a very nice sushi bar just a few blocks away. You might not think you can get good sushi in Tulsa. You’d be wrong about that.

When we got back to the hotel again, we spotted Ryan McConnel and three other riders leaning up against the railing at the far end of the lobby seating area, all of them looking like they’d rather have been anywhere but there. The buckle bunnies were out in force to our right, rummaging through the little buffet and roiling around among the rest of the fans. (By now I’m sure you can all recognize the buckle-bunny costume: a little stretchy top with or without spaghetti straps and/or spangles, either a micro-miniskirt (usually denim) or ripped-up cutoffs that just barely keep the essentials covered, and cowboy boots. In most cases, I’d bet the whole outfit doesn’t cost $25. Oh, except for the overpriced cell phone that they all seem to be packing, of course.)

On the other side of the escalators, we saw three dejected buckle bunnies sadly peering over the railing, I presume in hopes of spotting an unclaimed cowboy. Since these poor girls were decidedly less svelte than the rest of the occupants of the hutch, I didn’t think their chances were very good.

We ducked back into the bar and realized that regardless of what was going on at Cain’s, or out in the lobby, THAT was where the real PBR After Party was. Riders and fans were cheek-by-jowl in there, and you couldn’t have gotten a drink if your life depended on it.

We never got over to Cain’s, which is sad because it’s been a hotspot on the Tulsa music scene since the ’20s, and Montana Barn Cat was dying to look it over. But we did have a great time at the After Party That Wasn’t.

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Open Letter to Kris diLorenzo

Dear Kris:

I thought about you a lot while we were in Tulsa. Having slogged about six blocks through the soupy atmosphere from the hotel to the BOK Center on Saturday night, we snagged a beer and stumbled to our seats. A quick look around confirmed what had been apparent in the lobby: The place was at most three-quarters full.

While I was enduring the praying and the recruits taking the Air Force oath and the paratroopers repelling down from the ceiling and the welcome back for some veterans returning from Iraq and Afghanistan, I kept remembering the question a colleague of mine had asked us both at lunch the day before: Why do nice people like you follow bull riding?

Anybody who has spent five minutes here knows the answer to that question—I’m in it for the bulls. But it occurred to me that in terms of its core audience, the PBR has probably hit the wall, and in fact may have begun to lose some ground. There’s not a whole lot more rednecks out there waiting to be rounded up and herded into the fold, and some rednecks may even be abandoning ship.

Let’s face it—if you’ve seen one pre-event show, you’ve seen them all. It would not surprise me one bit if someone managed to confirm that the prayer so piously offered at the beginning of the event is repeated word-for-word at every single venue. Since his heart attack, Flint has changed some things up, but not so much that you have to pay strict attention or you’ll miss something awesome. If anything, there is more blatant pandering to the sponsors than ever, right down to the silly little girls in their skimpy outfits tripping merrily through the dirt five times a night to throw tee-shirts and stress balls into the crowd. And another thing—every one of them runs (and throws) like a girl.

Unless you studiously devote yourself to following the cowboys and/or the bulls each season, it’s a safe bet that you’ll be bored about the third time you go to a BFTS event. I’ve been going to live events for five years now, and I can truthfully say that almost nothing has changed—it’s just more of the same, piled higher and deeper.

All this makes me wonder if Randy Bernard didn’t recognize that to take the PBR to the next level, he would have to do battle with a lot of good ol’ boys who are deeply invested in the way things are, up to and including the right-wing family values crap that’s handed out like chewing gum at the beginning of every event. Maybe he thought he couldn’t effect meaningful change anymore—maybe he didn’t have the stomach for the battle. Fifteen years in the same job can take the edge off anyone, and it’s clear that just adding more events and going to bigger towns isn’t going to attract a larger audience on a permanent basis. Curiosity seekers, sure. Hard-core fans—not so much.

I plan to be there till they put the last bull on the trailer and turn out the lights, but I can’t help but wonder if there aren’t a lot of nice people like me, and nice people who totally disagree with me on just about everything, who are starting to wonder whether it’s worth $75 a seat to hear the same sermon yet again.

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Calgary or Bust!

Dear friends: I am embarrassed to reveal to you our deep, dark secret: We are impulsive. On several occasions, we have taken off on a Saturday afternoon to go grocery shopping and ended up driving for hours along the banks of the Madison River, picking out the perfect spot for our next trout fishing adventure. Since we’ve lived here in God’s country for more than five years and have, each summer, bought fishing licenses without ever wetting a hook, I guess you could also say we are eternal optimists. There’s always NEXT summer, right? There’s plenty of fish in them thar rivers.

The point of this is that back in June, after I returned from spending 10 days on the road, six of them with my family, we hatched the idea of trundling up to Calgary to take in the Stampede. This was mostly inspired by Montana Barn Cat’s ceaseless moaning about how he was just going to DIE if he didn’t get to see some bulls buck soon, but I’d be lying if I denied that we were also somewhat persuaded by the memory of Reese Cates’ immortal description of his adventures in Canada two years ago. Anyway, we thought we’d just mosey up there, spend a couple days at the Stampede and see some draft horses, miniature donkeys, and bucking bulls, spend a couple of nights at the Fairmont in Banff, and then head on home. Since we planned to drive, we didn’t see any need to get our panties in a bunch about reservations and such till about three weeks before we planned to depart.

First speed bump: Montana Barn Cat realized he HAD to attend a Big Deal at the museum where he works. I totally concurred with this, so we pushed our departure date back to accommodate that.

Second speed bump: The Fairmont had been offering a stay-two-nights-get-the-third-night-free deal, which abruptly disappeared off the Website just as we were getting ready to book the room. I’m all for shamelessly indulging the Cat and myself, but that was just a little too rich for my blood. So we decided to cut back to one night in Banff and a slightly more leisurely trip home.

Third speed bump: Just as I was about to get online to make all the reservations and buy the Stampede tickets, Montana Barn Cat realized that—wait for it—his passport had expired. There was no way he could get it renewed in time.

Busted! Or, three strikes and you’re out.

So we gave all that detailed, complicated, in-depth planning the deep-six and flew to Tulsa.

Yes, Tulsa.

We flew down there and attended the Saturday night and Sunday afternoon PBR events at the BOK Center.

I plan to post at some length about the experience, being as careful as I can to avoid revealing much about the results, since I know that some of you plan to watch the coverage on Versus.

But I will leave you hanging with this last tidbit: The second night we were in town, we came back from slogging around through the 100 degree murk that settles over Tulsa like the Black Plague at this time of year, and went straight to the hotel bar for something cool. There we met up with an Australian gentleman who had just flown in from attending the Stampede. He informed us that the rodeo events in Calgary were a total bust, because apparently it poured rain the entire time he was there.

I guess sometimes it’s wisest to pay attention to the straws in the wind.

Friday, July 2, 2010

At Long Last, Worcester!

Friends, I am proud to be able to post Kris DiLorenzo’s report on the 2010 Worcester Invitational, which she attended back in early May. I also invite you to check out the blog for her new company, Bull Riding Marketing, at http://bullridingmarketing.wordpress.com. You can also follow her on twitter at MarketBullRidin. Here she is!

The 2010 Worcester Invitational

The bulls won. I’ve never seen anything like it. Six riders made 8 seconds on Saturday night, but nobody made 8 seconds on Sunday afternoon, though Connecticut cowboy Dan Welsh got close. One commentator joked that they’d have to give the money to the bulls. Velcro was mentioned. There shouldn’t have been a Championship Round, but the powers that be decided that whoever had lasted close to 8 seconds would be in it. Then, a handful of guys stuck.

I drove three hours and braved a scattering of animal cruelty protestors outside the DCU Center in Worcester, Mass. to see the second of four PBR events in the Northeast. (I never tire of bragging that I saw JB hang onto Code Blue in Madison Square Garden in January.) There’s one aspect of bull riding the PBR should address: the public perception that bulls are tortured or hurt. I called out my car window to someone with a picket sign, “They don’t hurt the bulls, believe me! That’s expensive breeding stock!” -- not exactly a concerted PR effort.

I was horrified at the attendance—the lack thereof. On the second day, the arena was only half full; maybe less. Now that’s a marketing challenge I could sink my teeth into…and don’t think I won’t pester the PBR about it. Meanwhile, the Frontier Rodeo Website proclaims that they “delivered another sold-out event.” Seeing double? What’n hell were they drankin’??

The event had all the BFTS trappings—big screen, dramatically silhouetted entrance march, T-shirt shooters, joking commentators, and Rockin’ Robbie--the Touring Pro version of Flint. But the opening mix of flag-waving, Bible-thumping, politics (our veterans were in Iraq for peace; didja know that’s what all the firepower was about?), and declaring the U.S. “the greatest country in the world” was one distasteful spectacle. Excuse me, but how about not insulting the Brazilian riders? How about respect for non-Christians? How about this is a bull riding event, not a revival meeting? You wanna broaden bull riding’s appeal? Rein in the schlockmeisters.

Might as well turn out one more gripe. I wish they’d used the big screen to show rides, not wrecks! Most people don’t watch bull riding to see cowboys get maimed—they come to see them ride bulls. There’s plenty of footage of good rides—show it!

There were just two names on the day’s program you’d recognize: Cody Nance and Blueberry Wine’s son, Fine Wine. Kasey Hayes won Saturday night, but Sunday afternoon, the thrill was gone. Not for the bulls, though—they were hamming it up. After he dumped Ueberson Duarte, Tear Jerker didn’t want to scram; he charged the wrangler’s horse—first time I’ve seen that. Black Walnut so seriously balked at exiting that after roping him, the wrangler had to charge ahead of him to pull him into the chute after him. Broken Promises refused to leave center stage until a bullfighter ran into the chute, presenting him with a target he couldn’t resist chasing. Blue Collar flipped a bullfighter sky-high up over his back end (the bull’s back end, that is).

Cowboys got air-mailed every which way, and a lot of them didn’t get out of the way fast enough after they came down. On Blue Collar, local Jean Da Silva hung up by his foot, traveling upside down. After two buck-offs, Cody Nance came back for his re-ride ready for business: chapless, jeans tucked into his boots. Not the best look, but in the so-called Championship Round, he rode Motel Melvin for 87.5. Corey Atwell, Matt Werries, Tom Winikus, and Lance Roberts scored 90, 87.5, 91.6, and 86.5, respectively. Wallace de Oliveira, 10th in Nampa, didn’t stay aboard Barnstormer, but rode Vindictive in the Championship Round for 87.5.

Bulls were provided by Teague Bucking Bulls, Mark Reed, Frontier Rodeo Company, and Frontier Rodeo Company & Ray. Some to watch: Wee Willy will give a rider a good workout. Night Hawk has some good fakes. Loco is intense—not easy to ride. Alex is a big guy. And Austin Nights was giving it his all in the chute.

The fact that I took notes about the entertainment and announcing shows how dismal the first four rounds were. Announcer’s best lines: “Brazilian cowboy Darth Vader is gonna get the re-ride!” and “The bull riding fell apart like a cheap tuxedo” (McKee must be throwing his voice).

Rockin’ Robbie’s patter was sometimes a cut above the usual cheesy stuff. Trying to rev up the audience generation by generation, Robbie hollered at the under-20s, “Pull your pants up!!” He also informed us, “I’m 6′2″ on e-Harmony!” (Buyer beware.) Trying to be optimistic after the 40th buck-off, he proclaimed, “Somebody’s gonna ride somethin’ now—I know I’m right—I got ESPN!” Being told he had WBRDS (White Boy Rhythm Deficiency Syndrome), he danced wildly out of control, spun into the well of a cartwheel, and hit the dirt, at which point the announcer yelled, “Robbie! No more Red Bull, okay!?”

What surprised me was how many Northeastern riders were in the event: 18 from Massachusetts, New Jersey, Connecticut, and Pennsylvania. Five riders were from the South, four from the Midwest, and 10 from Brazil. But it didn’t matter; it was the bulls’ day. A fake Championship Round is just depressing. Why the guys couldn’t do the 8 seconds in the other four rounds is beyond me. Maybe they just needed more of an audience.