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We know it’s not your first rodeo, but CHEYENNE FRONTIER DAYS could be your next one

 

By Jon Rizzi

Photography Courtesy of Cheyenne Frontier Days

 

To quote one of George Strait’s countless No. 1 country hits, you “can still make it to Cheyenne.” And two hours in the car will get you there from Denver.

The 128th edition of Cheyenne Frontier Days (CFD) takes place July 19–28. Each of those 10 days bursts with colorful pageantry, a vibrant midway, Native dancers, eclectic concerts and, of course, a historic rodeo known as “the Daddy of  ’Em All.”

Every CFD has a theme. This year’s is “The Year of the Cowgirl,” which pays tribute to “the resilience and fortitude of Western women throughout our history,” general chairman John Contos explains. “We follow in their footsteps. They worked alongside the men and were very independent. They were, in lot of ways, the backbone of frontier society.”

Keeping with the theme, check out “How ’bout Them Cowgirls,” a 12-foot-tall bronze rendering of woman rodeo rider, which now stands near an existing statue honoring the late rodeo champion and musician Chris LeDoux. Then head to the memorabilia-packed Cheyenne Frontier Days Old West Museum to learn about Kristie Peterson, Lorena Trickey and the more than two dozen other women enshrined alongside the likes of LeDoux and Lane Frost in the Cheyenne Frontier Days Hall of Fame. You’ll also see and banners sporting the faces of every Miss Frontier since 1931—and the white buckskin outfits most of them wore.

It’s worth getting to the arena one morning to take the free Behind the Chutes tour, which introduces you to some of the animal athletes—and lets you see how they are treated. Afterwards, spend an afternoon appreciating them as men and women compete in multiple events in the world’s largest outdoor rodeo arena, working towards Championship Sunday, when finalists in every category vie for the golden buckle.

For hard-core rodeo excitement, try to get a ticket to either the Monday or Tuesday night edition of Last Cowboy Standing. Over the course of five rounds, members of the elite Professional Bull Riders compete in a gladiatorial survive-and-advance format.

On other nights, a couple of tractors drag in a giant stage and turn the arena into a concert venue. While famous for spotlighting country stars like Strait, LeDoux, Charlie Daniels and Johnny Cash, CFD has also attracted rock bands such as Aerosmith, Journey, Kiss and ZZ Top. This year not only will Jason Aldean, Lainey Wilson and Thomas Rhett headline, but so will Jelly Roll, Machine Gun Kelly, T-Pain and Ludacris.

“Diversity,” Contos says when asked about the lineup, sharing that CFD has 10 days to make a year’s worth of revenue.  “You’ve got to move and shake with what the spectators expect, what the athletes and vendors want, and what the community will support.” 

Increased spectator demand for enhanced VIP experiences has recently resulted in Tunes on the Terrace—roped off areas for eight people with chairs and table service during Frontier Nights concerts—as well as the Party Zone Upgrade, which gets early-admission, up-close, standing-room-only access to the stage. The 3,600-square-foot rooftop deck atop the new events center provides up to 64 people with adult-beverage service and unprecedented views into the rodeo or concert—as well as feeds from the action on multiple HDTVs. 

These options represent the latest change in an event that has evolved dramatically since 1897, and the operation still runs as smoothly as the horse-drawn carriages, wagons, marching bands and floats that parade from the State Capitol to the Frontier Park every other morning.

While finding a hotel room during Frontier Days once was dang-near impossible, a range of Marriotts, Hiltons, Wyndham and Microtel franchises have recently sprouted, and the Chamber of Commerce website, regularly updates the number of rooms available. 

More refined accommodations await downtown, two miles south of Frontier Park, at the stately Nagle Warren Mansion B&B, an authentically appointed 12-bedroom Victorian home constructed in 1888 and now run by Scotsman Jas Barbé, a two-star Michelin chef who serves an over-the-top breakfast, afternoon high tea and the occasional six-course gourmet meal.

But if a free pancake breakfast sounds just as attractive—and appropriate to the festivities—then head over to the Cheyenne Depot Plaza July 22, 24 and 26 from 7 to 9 a.m., where volunteers will flip and serve more than 100,000 flapjacks.

When the cakes aren’t on the griddle, the Accomplice Beer Company in the repurposed Union Station Depot building, pulls double-duty as a breakfast spot until 2 p.m. After that, it’s mostly pilsners, porters, IPAs and pub food.

You won’t go wrong with dinner at The Albany, Paris West or The Metropolitan Downtown. But don’t turn your nose up at the food on the midway. Stands like Spud Ranch, Texas Steak Out and Get Fried will surprise you with their enhanced fair fare—and make you glad you made it to Cheyenne.

 

Cheyenne Chamber of Commerce

cheyenne.org