Mike Kennedy surveys Gus Darien Arena from the chute as he anticipates the opening of the Carbondale Wild West Rodeo's 16th season on June 3, 2021. For the full schedule and lineup of events, go to carbondalerodeo.com. Photo by Paula Mayer.

“Our heavenly Father, we pause at this time, mindful of the many blessings you have bestowed upon us. We ask, Lord, that you be with us in this arena of life. We as cowboys do not ask for special favors…” The last time Carbondale rodeo fans heard Branden Edwards’ baritone delivery of the Cowboy Prayer in Gus Darien Arena was Aug. 22, 2019. Like so many other events, celebrations and gatherings, the Carbondale Wild West Rodeo (CWWR) was cancelled last summer due to the pandemic. As the Roaring Fork Valley, the nation and the world feels on the cusp of returning to some semblance of life as we knew it, one small step toward that goal will take place on June 3, when CWWR kicks off their 16th season.

“We’re hopeful it’s going to happen,” says Mike Kennedy, president of the CWWR board of directors. Mike is as passionate today as he was in 2005 when he and Dave Weimer took over the running of the rodeo and made it a viable not-for-profit volunteer organization. Normally, planning for the upcoming season would have started months ago: talking to stock contractors, engaging sponsors, and organizing the crew of around 25 volunteers the rodeo depends on. “It’s a big undertaking and if we didn’t have all of those people, we couldn’t do it.” Also key to the rodeo’s success is their partnership with the Town of Carbondale. 

Central to the rodeo’s mission is preserving the western lifestyle and connecting with the local community. While competitors come from as far as Arizona, Montana and Texas, the majority are from Aspen to Parachute. This is a local opportunity for friends and family to come out and watch them compete.

Historians agree the first American rodeo took place in Prescott, Arizona, in 1888. Cowboys and ranch hands gathered to show off their prowess at roping, riding and working cattle. Today’s rodeos are quite similar, with events like team roping, bull riding, bronc riding, and barrel racing. The athleticism of both human and equine athletes is impressive.

Edwards will be back in the announcer’s booth this summer. “There’s electricity in the air. We are excited and impatient. We want to make sure we do it right.” He is looking forward to seeing people he hasn’t seen in over a year. “It’s all about community. Sitting across from another human being and connecting over something you enjoy. Take a picture of any corner of the crowd and you’ll see a blue collar worker sitting next to a tourist. And for a moment, they’re in the grandstand, watching cowboys and cowgirls work with livestock, preserving the history of the western lifestyle.”

The pandemic has been difficult for everyone and the rodeo industry is no exception. For months, their way of life has been on hold. At both state and national levels, the rodeo and agricultural industries are under scrutiny. Those who choose to live off the land and raise livestock, however, are a hardy, resilient group.

So tighten up your cinch and hold on, it’s rodeo time!