Cowboy Up

Categories: Cover Story
The rodeo opened yesterday, which we guess is proof that enough people survived the Barbecue Cookoff. You can pick up the Press this week for our take on the scene, but here's one thing that didn't make it in: Leroy Shafer's picks for the five best rodeo concerts he's seen. Shafer, a 34-year rodeo vet, is the organization's chief operating officer and the key guy in putting together each year's 20 big-name shows. Playing the rodeo can be a tough gig — you're on a rotating stage 75 feet from the audience, for one thing. The building might smell like cow shit, for another. Shafer says almost every act that's played has ended up loving it, though, except one.

After the jump, the big loser and the top five...

That act was the allegedly laid-back Jimmy Buffett, he of the annoying Parrothead hordes. "He just hated playing in the round, hated not being close to the audience and just told his management 'This is not something I ever want to do again,'" Shafer says of the 1988 show. "He's also become highly choreographed, and he can't bring those set pieces on to our stage because of how we have to do our performance."

The top five shows ever, according to Shafer (and yeah, it's a bit country-fied, but it's his list, not yours):

1) George Strait, 1983: In a story that's become rodeo legend, a relatively unknown George Strait scrambles in at the last minute for a laryngitis-afflicted Eddie Rabbit. By the time he finishes by expertly galloping around on a horse, the place has gone nuts. "A spellbound audience," Shafer says.

2) John Fogerty, 2006: "His agent told me 'It was the best show he's done. He came into the place and saw that audience — he hasn't done one this good since he went back on the road.'"

3) Don Williams, 1983: The singer of "Tulsa Time," Shafer says, "was an old grizzly guy with a short stubby beard who just was cooking...He did the song, I forget the name, about how his girlfriend's jeans don't fit anymore so he better buy the ring. It's a love song. And when he finished people stood up and started banging on their chairs and yelling and screaming and he's just looking up and there's tears flowing down his face and the cameras are right on him...He did like six encores that night."

4) Garth Brooks, 1991: "Garth went absolutely bananas on our stage, got off and ran around with wireless mikes and guitars, climbing fences. It was just an astounding performance."

5) Conway Twitty, any year: "A consummate performer...He poured his heart and soul into every performance....There'd always be people who didn't know who he was, but he had such a range of songs, and then at the end he'd throw in "It's Only Make Believe" and people would go "That was him?"

Somehow not making the list: Lisa Lisa & Cult Jam in 1990. -- Richard Connelly

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