Belle of the Ball

Fans looking for a fun post-performance party have two great options each night at the Gold Coast. For the second straight year, Gary Leffew’s Legendary Buck’N Ball is held in the casino’s Arizona Ballroom, and it’s a popular haunt for rodeo fans looking to unwind and have a good time after the Wrangler NFR.

Organized by ProRodeo Tour Hall of Famer Gary Leffew, the Ball features live music, plenty of tasty beverages, a sizeable dance floor and even a mechanical bull for those brave souls who think they can ride like J.W. Harris (who attended the Buck’N Ball that night).

I stopped by the party after Round 1 to check out the scene and find out what made Leffew create the event last year. I had heard Vegas’ country station 102.7 doing live remotes from the Buck’N Ball on my drive over from the Thomas & Mack Center, so I knew the party was already in full swing.

As always, Leffew was welcoming and a gracious host, and he explained that the Ball was a carryover from a longtime tradition in San Francisco.

“It’s a continuation from the Cow Palace, and I did the Buck’N Ball there for 35 years,” Leffew said. “It started as a Halloween costume ball there in 1973. Me, Donny Gay, Monty Henson and all those guys decided to have a party, all got costumes and invited people. It took off, and we used to pack the place. We’d get 3,000-4,000 people to show up.”

He said last year’s inaugural Buck’N Ball in Las Vegas was an immediate success.

“We packed the place every night, and every night got stronger,” Leffew said. “We’re just going to go on with it. We have good music, and it’s just another place to come and have some fun. It’s a great place to hang out.”

George Strait’s Ace in the Hole Band is the headlining band for the Buck’N Ball, with Scotty Alexander’s band opening this year. Both bands were easy on the ears, and the dance floor was never short on people two-stepping the night away.

George Strait's Ace in the Hole Band is headlining Gary Leffew's Legendary Buck'N Ball.

Monty “Hawkeye” Henson showed up for the festivities after Round 1, wearing a wide grin and having a great time catching up with his old friend Leffew. I’d heard stories about how wild and crazy Hawkeye was in his rodeo days that have had me doubled over in laughter, so it was a treat to meet the friendly and energetic Hall of Famer.

“I went to the first Buck’N Ball and went to a whole lot of them since,” Hawkeye said while enjoying a beer. “I don’t remember the trip home a few times, but I always had a good time. Gary and I have been friends forever and have always had a good time together, and we thought, ‘Wow, why couldn’t we spread the wealth to everybody?’ The Cow Palace was fun, but you got bored during the week, so Gary came up with the Buck’N Ball and it was a great success.

“I’m glad the Gold Coast had enough presence of mind to take a look at this and do this. We were all surprised last year by how successful it was, but I guess it was just the right time for it. Most places, it’s different age groups, but they’re all in there, and that’s what made it a success last year.”

I strolled downstairs to see the National Finals Tonight show hosted by Hall of Famers Don Gay and Joe Beaver, and it was another packed room of people. Wrangler NFR announcers Bob Tallman (another Hall of Famer) and Boyd Polhamus joined Gay, Beaver and longtime rodeo TV host Dan Miller on the stage with 20-time Wrangler NFR saddle bronc rider Rod Hay.

National Finals Tonight is a fun time for all types of rodeo fans.

The guys had a great time poking fun at one another, telling stories and talking about the night’s rodeo performance while taking questions from fans and just having fun talking about rodeo. The Gold Coast films the show and broadcasts it on its closed-circuit TV channel throughout the casino, so guests at the Buck’N Ball can see who’s on stage in case they want to catch a particular cowboy there.

They ended the show by raffling off some pretty darn great prizes. Gift certificates for Wrangler jeans and Justin Boots, a Montana Silversmiths buckle and even an autographed George Strait Fender acoustic guitar were all doled out to excited rodeo fans.

The room was full of fans and VIPs, including two-time PRCA Announcer of the Year Wayne Brooks, Dan Stark from Boyd Gaming and 2007 Wrangler NFR alternate bullfighter Cory Wall. I had interviewed Gay several times for the ProRodeo Sports News through the years, including a cover story early on in my PRCA tenure, and he was as friendly as ever following the night’s show.

I wasn’t surprised to find that he was having a ball hosting National Finals Tonight, now in its fifth year at the Gold Coast.

“This show has felt right from Day 1,” Gay said. “The show’s gotten better because we’ve gotten more comfortable with it, and the crew from Boyd Gaming that works here is outstanding. There’s a lot of moving parts, but it’s one of those things where everything is so well taken care of, I can just have fun. Tonight, I ended up being a prop, but that happens.

“I’m really enjoying myself. (The show) was a good idea that really worked, and I think the people who come are really having a good time. It doesn’t matter if you’ve been rodeoing all your life or have never been to one. You can come here and ask questions, and we’re going to give you an answer.”

Gay said fans, contestants and rodeo personnel all enjoy the show because of its down-home atmosphere and authentic rodeo and Western focus.

“People like coming, because they can get here and we can talk about rodeo and parts of our industry that never get to the Sports News or websites,” Gay said. “It’s in-depth and there are personal stories people like to hear and in the right setting. We have something we can contribute, because we’ve been here at the National Finals Rodeo and have done it all.”

Chatting with five ProRodeo Hall of Famers, enjoying some good music, great stories and Coors Light – not a bad night in Vegas at all.

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