By EMILY RAMSEY
SKILLED COWBOYS: The Tulsa State Fair has rebranded its PRCA rodeo as the Red Dirt Rodeo, based on audience feedback. After the rodeo on both evenings will be a red dirt music act. On Oct. 6 the Casey Donahew Band will perform, and on Oct. 7, Aaron Watson will take the stage. The rodeo will include various traditional rodeo events, including bull riding, bronc riding, roping and barrel racing.
Courtesy Cooper Design
On Sept. 28, the Tulsa State Fair will begin its 11-day run, which will include a rebranded rodeo on Oct. 6 and 7.
The rodeo’s new name, the Red Dirt Rodeo, was created in response to audience feedback, says Sarah Thompson, Tulsa State Fair marketing and development supervisor.
While in past years, the two-night rodeo featured a contemporary music act and a red dirt musician, “the red dirt concert always brought out the most people,” says Thompson.
On Friday, Oct. 6, the Casey Donahew Band will perform, and on Oct. 7, Aaron Watson will take the stage.
Weekend passes for both rodeos and concerts will be available.
The Red Dirt Rodeo will include various traditional rodeo events, including bull riding, bronc riding, roping and barrel racing.
Right in the middle of the action will be Oklahoma native John Harrison, who will perform both evenings as the barrelman and rodeo clown.
A barrelman serves as a distraction to the bull, allowing the bull rider to escape the arena after being bucked off. The rodeo clown provides entertainment between rodeo acts.
Harrison, who lives with his family in Soper, Oklahoma, has been traveling and working as a rodeo clown for 15 years.
Harrison grew up around rodeos; his grandfather is Freckles Brown, a World Champion bull rider.
Harrison remembers when he was six years old, being asked to step in as a rodeo barrelman for the first time.
Harrison quickly grew to love rodeos, although, “I never thought that I could make a living at it,” he says.
After high school, Harrison enrolled at Southeastern Oklahoma State University but found that the rodeo itch continued, and it began to interfere with his class attendance. He eventually left college in order to pursue a career in the rodeo.
Harrison started as a trick rider before becoming a rodeo clown in 2002.
He owns Harrison Entertainment, traveling as an independent contractor to rodeos across the country, averaging four cities per month.
His wife and three children travel with him for a portion of the year.
While the excessive travel is one of the largest downsides of the job, he says, the experiences that he has had as well as those he has provided for his children have been priceless.
One of Harrison’s more notable experiences came nearly 20 years ago when he was given a private tour of the White House after meeting a secret service agent for then-President Bill Clinton at a rodeo where Harrison performed.
“Traveling around the country, you find that there are good people all over,” says Harrison. “We meet awesome people every weekend.”
For his Tulsa State Fair performances, Harrison plans to perform four acts for the audience, including comedy trick riding, which involves various riding stunts, such as falling off of his horse and riding upside down. “It all looks very uncontrolled, but it is very controlled,” says Harrison.
His longest-running act, called Miss Rodeo Universe, is a satire on rodeo queens, who serve as female representatives of the rodeo sport. Harrison dresses in women’s clothing and plays the part of a high maintenance rodeo queen.
In his other acts, he plays a magician who makes off with his audience volunteer’s girlfriend, and he performs rhythmic gymnastics.
Harrison’s accomplishments include appearances at the Wrangler National Finals Rodeo in Las Vegas, Nevada, as a specialty act performer and as a barrelman. He has won the Comedy Act of the Year three times and, in 2014, was named the Coors Man in the Can by Molson-Coors Brewing Company, an award recognizing an outstanding rodeo barrelman.
The theme for this year’s Tulsa State Fair, running Sept. 28-Oct. 8, is “Take A Spin!”.
Advance tickets will be on sale Sept. 1-25, offering four tickets for $24.