It's time to slap on a Stetson and wriggle into some Wranglers - the Eagle County Fair and Rodeo is back in town.For 73 years now, local residents have been celebrating all that is best in the region at the annual event. Whether that includes taking in some pro rodeo action or entering a favorite cookie recipe, the fair has something for all ages. And for the first time this year, the rodeo is embracing 21st century technology to enhance the experience.According to Eagle County Fair and Rodeo coordinator Laurie Asmussen, this year rodeo go'ers can purchase and print their tickets on line at either www.eaglecountyfairandrodeo.com or www.eaglecounty.us. She noted the idea is to eliminate the issue of long lines at the ticket booth.Also different this year, is the 7 p.m. rodeo start time. "We felt like we wanted to cater more to families," said Asmussen.With the earlier start time, there was also an opportunity to bring in more live music, said Asmussen. Local bands including Some Town, Instant Cash, The Trubelos and Brothers of the Sun will be playing nightly at the Fishing is Fun area just west of the rodeo arena from 9 to 11 p.m. Tonight, July 26, the Texaco Country Showdown talent competition will get under way at the same site. "Last year we had 14 contestants in the Texaco Country Showdown and one of our contestants - Troy Harris - was the state runner up."Tonight also features the first ever Bucking Brewfest. A $10 admission buys a tasting menu of 14 craft and micro brews from operations including Bonfire Brewing, Gore Range Brewery, Breckenridge Brewery and more.
Once inside the arena, the crowd will be treated to top rodeo action that includes some home-grown talent. "There are kids who grew up here and are now competing on the circuit, and there are a lot of national finals competitors coming," said Asmussen. "That means some top-notch rodeo competitors.""It's a good rodeo," said Louie Brunson, who won saddle bronc riding in Eagle last year. "It's a tough rodeo to get into, because there are so many guys who enter it. It seems like everybody shows up because you've got a chance to win on everything," said Brunson, 26, of Interior, S.D.It's not just top human competitors who come to rodeo in Eagle County. Carr Pro Rodeo is returning as the event stock contractor .Ask any contestant what makes the Eagle County Fair and Rodeo special, they'll talk about the setting, the crowds and the great bucking animals. Take Grass Dancer, for example. The 11-year-old buckskin mare has been to the National Finals Rodeo each of the last four years. At Eagle in 2009, she matched moves with Ryan Gray for a world record-tying 94 points."Eagle is a pretty special place, even if we're just talking about the atmosphere," said Pete Carr, owner of the Dallas-based livestock firm. "The animals just love the weather there. It's really cool for us as well when you figure we're a Texas livestock company. Getting to go to Eagle in July from this kind of heat in Texas is a nice change for all of us."Last year Brunson rode Carr's Trail Dust to an 85-point score and a $2,800 pay day."That was my first time on that horse, but it seems like everything bucks good in Eagle," said Brunson. "It's just kind of a cool rodeo. It has a neat background and good stock. When you ride, they get awesome crowds. They packed that thing full. I couldn't believe it."For the crowds in the stands, the biggest change for the 2012 event will be the new voice detailing the action - Andy Stewart.Asmussen noted that Stewart is one of the most popular rodeo announcers in the business. "He's got a rodeo booked, literally, every weekend of the year," she said. "He is a charismatic guy and he is really connected in the rodeo world. Something that makes all the difference to the contestants."
Beyond the rodeo action, the fair marks the culmination of a year's worth of work for local 4-H kids. Their projects are on display all week at the Eagle River Center and the annual Junior Livestock Sale gets under way at 1:30 p.m. Saturday.Anyone who is considering purchasing an animal at the sale is welcome to attend the buyer barbecue at the Eagle River Center at noon Saturday. Asmussen said here a loads of great reasons to bid on a cow, lamb, hog, turkey or chicken. "People are so interested in organic farming and you can't get much more organic than buying a 4-H animal that was locally raised and cut to order," she said.Additionally, livestock sale participants use the money they earn to purchase their next year's projects, add to a college fund or finance other needs.Asmussen said the local community has always been very supportive of the Junior Livestock Sale and the entire fair and rodeo program."We have a record level of sponsorship this year and we feel very fortunate to say that," she said. "We have 14 people on our fair board and half of them are sponsors themselves."As she prepares for the 73rd annual event, Asmussen said the Eagle County Fair and Rodeo is a tangible example of what makes this such a great community. "We have all these amazing local business owners and you see their names on all of these events that benefit our community," she said. "We are really lucky that these people step up year after year because it's all small businesses that make events like this happen."