There are – almost literally – a million things to do in Las Vegas. You could spend months here going to different shows, checking out various restaurants and hitting the clubs and bars.
For rodeo fans, the number of options grows every year. With post-performance parties popping up like chicken pox all over the strip, Wrangler NFR contestants, fans and personnel can experience different celebrations at a number of iconic Vegas casinos.
I decided to check out the party scene Wednesday night after Round 7, and I was not disappointed. I first went to The Mirage – where I stayed the first two years I worked the Wrangler NFR from 2004-05 – to check out the Rodeo Vegas party that’s held there each night.
There was an ambulance and Fire Department paramedics truck with lights blaring at the front entrance when I arrived, and I wondered if the party had taken a raucous turn and an over-indulged patron was having issues. I followed the sound of country music to the Rodeo Vegas party area, but never saw any medical personnel around.
I asked a few Mirage staffers about the ambulance, but they acted like they didn’t even know it was there. Only in Vegas!
The Mirage converts its Sports Book into a bar and dance hall, complete with a big stage where different bands play throughout the week. There was a decent crowd milling around – not bad for a Wednesday – enjoying some spirits and the band and watching a replay of the night’s rodeo on the big screen.
The place was full of contestants, which isn’t surprising since Rodeo Vegas has become an immensely popular brand and The Mirage parties are known for being some of the rowdiest rodeo gatherings during the Wrangler NFR. Of course, the fact that contestants and their families get to drink free there doesn’t hurt one bit.
There were tons of contestants there, most wearing either Rodeo Vegas leather jackets (which are supremely sweet and a hot item at Cowboy Christmas), Rodeo Vegas vests or patches featuring The Mirage logo. I saw dozens of past and present Wrangler NFR competitors there, from World Champion Saddle Bronc Rider Chad Ferley and Clayton Foltyn to most of the steer wrestlers, including the massive Jake Rinehart and former college linebacker Wade Sumpter.
I ran into Rodeo Vegas owner/creator K.C. Jones – himself a five-time Wrangler NFR bulldogger – at the party, and we chatted for a while. He also owns and operates the increasingly popular Pro Fantasy Rodeo and said that he’s been so busy monitoring that, handling the Rodeo Vegas parties and overseeing the various merchandise booths he has scattered across town that he hasn’t even been able to watch the performances.
“I come here and watch the replays,” he said.
The band was putting on a good show, and Jones said that Rodeo Vegas sponsor Crown Royal had taken care of getting the bands to play the parties. Four bands rotate on the stage throughout the Wrangler NFR, and fans seemed to enjoy the tunes.
I bid Jones adieu, finished my beverage and then headed off to the MGM Grand to check out the party there. I wandered around the massive casino – which supposedly has more square footage than any other Vegas casino (and I believe it) – and finally found what I was looking for when I heard the country music playing.
The casino has set up the Crown Royal Gold Buckle Zone next to Studio 54 and the impressive Lion Habitat, and there was all kinds of activity going on. There was a live band playing for a crowded dance floor next to the main bar, a couple of other smaller bars, a couple of blackjack tables and dancing girls on podiums. There was also a “shot chair,” where a scantily clad cowgirl doused people with shots of Crown Royal while they were laid back in a barber’s chair, and a hat-shaping booth for cowboys who wanted to get any kinks worked out of their Resistols.
I saw a few contestants, including steer wrestler Blake Knowles, tie-down roper Adam Gray and saddle bronc rider Jacobs Crawley. Having been to the various after parties around town – including Gary Leffew’s Buck’N Ball at the Gold Coast and the buckle presentations at the South Point – it occurred to me that Las Vegas really has become a “Cowboy Town” in December.
I talked to veteran radio journalist Arnie Jackson – the 2005 PRCA Media Award winner for Broadcast Journalism – before Round 7, and he said that the city had not always embraced the rodeo and its fans. Apparently, when the rodeo first came to town 27 years ago, the casinos, hotels and business owners in Vegas didn’t know what to think of the cowboy hat-clad masses who showed up to see the world’s richest rodeo.
My, how times have changed.
Casinos now roll out the red carpet for rodeo contestants, fans, sponsors, dignitaries and personnel the same way they do for superstar musical acts or other mega-celebrities. Knowles said it makes the two weeks for the Wrangler NFR a special experience.
“Your options are unlimited,” Knowles said. “Between all of the interview shows at the Gold Coast and the South Point or bands and bar party atmosphere, the choices are unlimited. (The Wrangler NFR) is so respected in the town, and if you’re a contestant, you can call any casino you want and they want you staying with them.
“I think that says a lot about the NFR and a lot about us as cowboys.”
I couldn’t agree more.
I talked my way past the velvet rope outside Studio 54, telling the guards in earnest that I was writing an article on the party scene, as I just had to check out the popular club that mirrors the iconic New York establishment so popular during its run from 1977-91. I have seen the movie starring the goddess-like Salma Hayek about the legendary club, so I was interested to see Las Vegas’ version.
Cowboy hats in Studio 54? You’re darn tootin’!
The place was jumping when I arrived, with dozens of cowboy hat-wearing dancers on the dance floor and a trio of dancing girls decked out in cowboy boots, cowboy hats and “Daisy Duke” shorts. I walked through the club, checking out the great photos of celebrities on the walls that included shots of John Travolta, Elton John, Andy Warhol, drag queens and even one of Tim Curry from the 1975 cult classic movie “The Rocky Horror Picture Show.”
There were roped-off lounge areas with bottle services, an upstairs VIP area with pool tables and more couches and, very appropriately, a giant silver rotating disco ball hanging above the dance floor.
DJ Silver was killing it, keeping a packed dance floor of gyrating gypsies engaged and excited. He thrilled the Western contingent by playing Kid Rock’s “Cowboy,” mixed in tons of techno and even worked in the hilariously entertaining “I’m Sexy and I Know It” tune by LMFAO.
I asked one of the numerous security guards if I could talk to the manager, and he connected me with Operations Manager Chris Stockwell. We talked in his office just behind the dance floor, and he was very accommodating and helpful.
I asked him about how Las Vegas casinos have increasingly embraced the cowboy world through the years, and he said the city is happy to have the Western contingent there every December.
“In the last five years especially, it’s kind of exploded,” Stockwell said of casinos going after the cowboy crowd. “Everybody’s got a piece of it and has done their part to roll out the red carpet and make them feel welcome. We like having all the cowboys here, and it’s a nice change of pace for us. It’s something different and is a good experience.”
December is usually a down month for Vegas, so the Wrangler NFR and its crowd provides a shot in the arm for the casinos and local businesses.
“December is generally one of the slower months here in Vegas, so the cowboy crowd definitely helps out quite a bit,” Stockwell said.
And boy if there weren’t some characters on the dance floor! My favorite was a small, 60-something man sporting a Ferrari driving cap, shades (it was night), trendy Puma-like sneakers, black jeans and a shirt with more bling and sequins than a barrel racer. He was “working it,” pointing his fingers in the air and dancing next to anyone who would acknowledge his existence.
Then there was an older, smaller version of Asian action star Jet Li who was dressed in a preppy getup that may have gained Truman Capote’s approval. He was also dancing his heart out, but would take breaks to inexplicably wipe off his tongue with a tissue from a small pack he kept in his pocket.
Large balloons falling from the ceiling – which were promptly popped by the stomping of cowboy boots and five-inch heels (I don’t know how women walk in those, much less dance in them!) – a smoke machine, spilled drinks and even a fight on the dance floor also highlighted the night.
I ran into Miss Rodeo American 2008 Amy Wilson and PRCA stock contractor Scotty Lovelace in the club before leaving and heading back to my hotel. I’m not sure what time it was, but it was late enough for me to pass by MGM Grand staff power-buffing the marble floors and cleaning the parking-garage escalators.
It was a heck of a night, and it was only Wednesday. Viva Las Vegas!