by Adam Sawyer / Photo © Snake River Stampede
From the outside looking in, a rodeo is a rodeo. If you haven’t attended one lately, you might have an “If you’ve seen one, you’ve seen them all” attitude. Admittedly, I would have grouped myself into that classification around this time last year. I’d make my way to one every few years, but I wouldn’t have labeled myself a rodeo fan.
Last year, that changed. It was the 99th edition of the Snake River Stampede (SRS) in Nampa, Idaho. I attended in order to get a feel for the event and write a story leading up to this year’s 100th anniversary.
I went three days in a row and immersed myself in the celebration.
I sat in numerous sections of the Ford Idaho Center, home to the event. I interviewed participants, organizers, and attendees. I attended pre-rodeo activities and after parties. I “did” the Snake River Stampede.
And I learned plenty.
For starters, a rodeo doesn’t reach its 100th anniversary on accident. From humble beginnings as a bucking contest during the Nampa Harvest Festival, the SRS is now one of the top 10 regular season professional rodeos in the nation—with a $400,000 purse. It’s a top-tier event, and it comes with all of the bells and whistles commensurate with upper-echelon rodeos.
In addition to being a professional sporting event, it’s a show, complete with pyrotechnics, music, comic relief, events for the kids and the wildly entertaining Snake River Stampeders Drill Team. The folks that take in the six different performances over the course of five days are treated to a sporting event/rock concert/variety show hybrid. It’s well organized and it fires on all cylinders. But most of the professional rodeos deliver this sort of spectacle to some degree. So what makes the SRS so different?
Nampa, Idaho, is a town of roughly 85,000 people. It’s a bit of a coup for a town of that size to be home to one of the continent’s most renowned and respected rodeos. And they wear it like the badge of honor it is. Nampa is the Snake River Stampede, and the Snake River Stampede is Nampa. The community has worked hard over the course of decades to nurture and build something that is somehow simultaneously a world-class event for the masses and their own annual backyard BBQ. They have always kept the rodeo going, no matter how hard the times, and in return the economy has been bolstered in leaner years by the influx of rodeo dollars.
One of the Stampede’s most beneficial ties to the community is a program called “Stampede for the Cure.” The non-profit organization contributes to the research and prevention of breast cancer and is primarily dedicated to helping women who need help getting mammograms. Since 2006, this program has raised over $500,000 dedicated to the cause.
One of the attributes that most distinguishes the SRS from its contemporaries is the vibe produced by the attendees. The crowd is a mix of locals, rodeo fans and curiosity seekers from far and wide. For many of the locals, this has been an annual event since birth. This was something the family did every year. And often it was the one time of year that the extended family got together. The SRS has been the scene of numerous first dates, reunions and the occasional marriage proposal. It’s where grandparents take grandkids and where girlfriends from the class of 1980-something get together to catch up and see if any old flames might be in attendance. The SRS draws singles, couples, friends, family, city slickers and cowboys.
Something that stuck out to me as I roamed around the arena was how friendly the locals are. In talking to many of the regulars in the crowd, they wanted to ensure that visitors and first timers had as good a time as they did. They took pride in the fact that, while there are definitely some folks living it up, nothing gets out of hand. There’s no drama at the SRS. They love their event. It’s theirs, but they want to share it with absolutely everyone.
Make no mistake, the Snake River Stampede is a rodeo. Like others, it’s a sporting event interwoven with family-friendly entertainment. But it’s also far more than that. It is civic pride. It is one half of a symbiotic relationship between a community and an event that manages to entertain while producing tangible benefits to the economy, to health and well-being, and to familial relationships. It’s a multi-generational treasure. There are many rodeos, but there’s only one Snake River Stampede. And, now, I too am a fan.
The 2015 Snake River Stampede’s centennial, July 14-18, should prove to be the granddaddy of rodeos. To purchase tickets, go online at snakeriverstampede.com. To learn more about Stampede for the Cure, visit stampedeforthecure.org. To learn more about visiting Nampa, Idaho, only 30 minutes from Boise, go to visitnampa.com or visitsouthwestidaho.org.